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Found 28 results

  1. This tease seemed to come out of nowhere. Russian developer Mundfish announced a very slick looking game called Atomic Heart earlier this week. Players will explore a research lab/military base (that might also double as a theme park?) during the height of the Soviet Union. Dr. Stockhausen has been conducting unholy experiments in the heart of the facility that have had an effect on both machines and the bodies of the dead that they have left in their wake. What exactly the nature of those experiments might have been remains a mystery for players to uncover as they delve into the secrets of Atomic Heart. The name seems to reference a bit of lore teased by the team back in March - a picture of two human hearts hooked to machines and a cryptic message about the love of two employees in Facility #3826. Players get drawn into this alternate history version of the Soviet Union as investigator P-3 who has been dispatched to investigate 3826. They find the facility in a state of decay and chaos as a wide variety of machines run amok alongside resurrected soldiers, some of whom have been creepily painted as clowns. As players explore, they'll find a variety of insane, mind-bending experiments still in progress, like people made of blood or strange, seemingly sentient pockets of air under water. Beware of making too much of a scene, though. Drawing the attention of the rampaging machines by running afoul of their patrol drones can lead to a quick, messy death. Atomic Heart seems to have an in-depth crafting system for weapons that will allow players to gear up as they progress and make weapons that suit their playstyle. While the trailer doesn't hint at an official release date, Mundfish expects to release Atomic Heart sometime this year for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
  2. This tease seemed to come out of nowhere. Russian developer Mundfish announced a very slick looking game called Atomic Heart earlier this week. Players will explore a research lab/military base (that might also double as a theme park?) during the height of the Soviet Union. Dr. Stockhausen has been conducting unholy experiments in the heart of the facility that have had an effect on both machines and the bodies of the dead that they have left in their wake. What exactly the nature of those experiments might have been remains a mystery for players to uncover as they delve into the secrets of Atomic Heart. The name seems to reference a bit of lore teased by the team back in March - a picture of two human hearts hooked to machines and a cryptic message about the love of two employees in Facility #3826. Players get drawn into this alternate history version of the Soviet Union as investigator P-3 who has been dispatched to investigate 3826. They find the facility in a state of decay and chaos as a wide variety of machines run amok alongside resurrected soldiers, some of whom have been creepily painted as clowns. As players explore, they'll find a variety of insane, mind-bending experiments still in progress, like people made of blood or strange, seemingly sentient pockets of air under water. Beware of making too much of a scene, though. Drawing the attention of the rampaging machines by running afoul of their patrol drones can lead to a quick, messy death. Atomic Heart seems to have an in-depth crafting system for weapons that will allow players to gear up as they progress and make weapons that suit their playstyle. While the trailer doesn't hint at an official release date, Mundfish expects to release Atomic Heart sometime this year for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. View full article
  3. Irrational Games, the developer behind the BioShock series, made a colossal change three years ago when it laid off most of its employees and became a small studio. Since then, Ken Levine and his team have been quietly working on... something. No one is quite sure what they've been up to in their Westwood, Massachusetts offices, but they've been hinting at a quieter, more thoughtful story-oriented game. Their mission, that quest for a more personal game, didn't quite seem to fit with a studio name like Irrational Games. To bring their name more in line with their goals, the studio's new name is Ghost Story Games. The studio describes their new studio in a way that acknowledges their past pedigree, but looks forward to something new and exciting: Ghost Story was founded by twelve former Irrational Games developers and our mission is simple: to create immersive, story-driven games for people who love games that ask something of them. While we believe our new games will have strong appeal to fans of BioShock, our new focus allows us to craft experiences where the gameplay is as challenging as the stories. The Irrational Games Twitter has become the Ghost Story Twitter and while the Irrational Games website remains up, the team has moved their focus to a new website under their Ghost Story Games moniker. Best of luck to Levine and his team as they officially bring to a close one of the most successful periods in game development history and move into a clear future yet to be written. View full article
  4. Jack Gardner

    Irrational Games Is Now Ghost Story Games

    Irrational Games, the developer behind the BioShock series, made a colossal change three years ago when it laid off most of its employees and became a small studio. Since then, Ken Levine and his team have been quietly working on... something. No one is quite sure what they've been up to in their Westwood, Massachusetts offices, but they've been hinting at a quieter, more thoughtful story-oriented game. Their mission, that quest for a more personal game, didn't quite seem to fit with a studio name like Irrational Games. To bring their name more in line with their goals, the studio's new name is Ghost Story Games. The studio describes their new studio in a way that acknowledges their past pedigree, but looks forward to something new and exciting: Ghost Story was founded by twelve former Irrational Games developers and our mission is simple: to create immersive, story-driven games for people who love games that ask something of them. While we believe our new games will have strong appeal to fans of BioShock, our new focus allows us to craft experiences where the gameplay is as challenging as the stories. The Irrational Games Twitter has become the Ghost Story Twitter and while the Irrational Games website remains up, the team has moved their focus to a new website under their Ghost Story Games moniker. Best of luck to Levine and his team as they officially bring to a close one of the most successful periods in game development history and move into a clear future yet to be written.
  5. The developers of Dishonored 2 revealed a tantalizing 9 minutes of gameplay showcasing Prey. Their upcoming project takes place on a space station that has come under attack by mysterious, shadowy being with the ability to manipulate the world around themselves in mind-bending ways. By surviving, crafting, and upgrading themselves with human and alien abilities, players might just be able to make it out alive. Creative director Raphael Colantonio and lead designer Ricardo Bare narrate the gameplay trailer, which demonstrates some of the basic combat and uses for weapons outside of fighting. Prominently featured is the glue gun, which can freeze tricky mimics in place, but also create platforms to climb on and a way to plug flaming pipes. We also are able to see how gameplay will work when you can turn yourself into any environmental object, like a cup. The ability combinations are already intriguing and only a handful have even been revealed - from an extensive catalog, if the skill trees are to be believed. The whole thing feels an awful lot like System Shock, right down to the wrench the protagonist carries to fend off enemies at the start. If what we are essentially going to be getting a polished BioShock in space experience, I am all in on that idea. Prey launches sometime in 2017 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. View full article
  6. Jack Gardner

    Arkane Studios Shares Prey Gameplay

    The developers of Dishonored 2 revealed a tantalizing 9 minutes of gameplay showcasing Prey. Their upcoming project takes place on a space station that has come under attack by mysterious, shadowy being with the ability to manipulate the world around themselves in mind-bending ways. By surviving, crafting, and upgrading themselves with human and alien abilities, players might just be able to make it out alive. Creative director Raphael Colantonio and lead designer Ricardo Bare narrate the gameplay trailer, which demonstrates some of the basic combat and uses for weapons outside of fighting. Prominently featured is the glue gun, which can freeze tricky mimics in place, but also create platforms to climb on and a way to plug flaming pipes. We also are able to see how gameplay will work when you can turn yourself into any environmental object, like a cup. The ability combinations are already intriguing and only a handful have even been revealed - from an extensive catalog, if the skill trees are to be believed. The whole thing feels an awful lot like System Shock, right down to the wrench the protagonist carries to fend off enemies at the start. If what we are essentially going to be getting a polished BioShock in space experience, I am all in on that idea. Prey launches sometime in 2017 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
  7. There is always a man. There is always a city. There is always a lighthouse. There is always a remaster. A new launch trailer for BioShock: The Collection has popped up on the internet to convince those who haven't played the series to finally grit their teeth and take a dive into the briny depths of Rapture and the soaring heights of Columbia. The remastered bundle of three games, BioShock, BioShock 2, and BioShock Infinite, can now be played on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC to experience one of the finest FPS series to date with its complete array of single-player DLC and an overhaul in the graphics department. BioShock: The Collection also includes a commentary for the original BioShock that can be accessed via golden reels scattered throughout the underwater city of Rapture. Players who find all the reels will be able to listen to two hours of commentary from creative director Kevin Levine and animation lead Shawn Robertson. The documentary has been titled "Imagining BioShock." “We’re immensely proud of the BioShock series, and we’ve taken great care in bringing these beloved games to the current generation of consoles,” stated Christoph Hartmann, president of 2K, on the remastered bundle. “Whether you’ve experienced these critically acclaimed classics before or are new to the series, there’s never been a better time to play and immerse yourself in the rich worlds of Rapture and Columbia.” Note that PC players who already own BioShock, BioShock 2, and/or Minerva's Den can upgrade to the remastered versions for free after their release today. If you own any of those on Steam, the remaster should appear in your library as a download next to the original. If you don't own those games on Steam, things get a bit tricky. The first BioShock released almost a decade ago at a time when there were no CD keys, so players who want their free upgrades from a physical copies will need to submit proof of purchase and their Steam account information to 2K Support. You can learn more about this process over on the handy guide 2K has put together.
  8. There is always a man. There is always a city. There is always a lighthouse. There is always a remaster. A new launch trailer for BioShock: The Collection has popped up on the internet to convince those who haven't played the series to finally grit their teeth and take a dive into the briny depths of Rapture and the soaring heights of Columbia. The remastered bundle of three games, BioShock, BioShock 2, and BioShock Infinite, can now be played on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC to experience one of the finest FPS series to date with its complete array of single-player DLC and an overhaul in the graphics department. BioShock: The Collection also includes a commentary for the original BioShock that can be accessed via golden reels scattered throughout the underwater city of Rapture. Players who find all the reels will be able to listen to two hours of commentary from creative director Kevin Levine and animation lead Shawn Robertson. The documentary has been titled "Imagining BioShock." “We’re immensely proud of the BioShock series, and we’ve taken great care in bringing these beloved games to the current generation of consoles,” stated Christoph Hartmann, president of 2K, on the remastered bundle. “Whether you’ve experienced these critically acclaimed classics before or are new to the series, there’s never been a better time to play and immerse yourself in the rich worlds of Rapture and Columbia.” Note that PC players who already own BioShock, BioShock 2, and/or Minerva's Den can upgrade to the remastered versions for free after their release today. If you own any of those on Steam, the remaster should appear in your library as a download next to the original. If you don't own those games on Steam, things get a bit tricky. The first BioShock released almost a decade ago at a time when there were no CD keys, so players who want their free upgrades from a physical copies will need to submit proof of purchase and their Steam account information to 2K Support. You can learn more about this process over on the handy guide 2K has put together. View full article
  9. Jack Gardner

    The Best Games Period - Episode 31 - BioShock

    When BioShock launched in 2007 for Xbox 360 and PC, it transported players to a world lost to time and some not-so-subtle Randian-inspired madness. Players navigated a city embroiled in self-obsessed insanity brimming with otherworldly powers and twisted human forms. One part horror, one part action, BioShock was one of the first hugely popular mainstream titles that people could point to and say, "This game? It's not only about mature action; it's about mature ideas, too!" Nine years later with a remaster on the horizon, is BioShock one of the best games period? Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative. Outro music: Super Smash Bros. Melee 'Hank Jankerson's Wild Ride' by LongBoxofChocolate (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR03376) You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is (sometimes) available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! You can also follow the show on Twitter: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday
  10. When BioShock launched in 2007 for Xbox 360 and PC, it transported players to a world lost to time and some not-so-subtle Randian-inspired madness. Players navigated a city embroiled in self-obsessed insanity brimming with otherworldly powers and twisted human forms. One part horror, one part action, BioShock was one of the first hugely popular mainstream titles that people could point to and say, "This game? It's not only about mature action; it's about mature ideas, too!" Nine years later with a remaster on the horizon, is BioShock one of the best games period? Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative. Outro music: Super Smash Bros. Melee 'Hank Jankerson's Wild Ride' by LongBoxofChocolate (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR03376) You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is (sometimes) available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! You can also follow the show on Twitter: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday View full article
  11. After months of teasing, 2K confirmed today that a complete collection of remastered BioShock games will be making its way to retailers. BioShock came out almost a decade ago, so the update will significantly revamp one of the definitive series of the last generation. The collection includes all three BioShock titles, all single-player DLC, all scaled up to the current generation of technology. As Irrational Games has undergone a break from 2K and been radically restructured under series creator Ken Levine, 2K has partnered with Blind Squirrel Games, which has been involved in the creation of games like Borderlands 2, Sunset Overdrive, and BioShock: Infinite. The bundle includes a lot of goodies that may be of interest to BioShock fans that they might not get to see anywhere else. A never before seen video series called Director's Commentary: Imagining BioShock which features Ken Levine, creative director of BioShock and BioShock: Infinite, and Shawn Robertson, the animation lead on the same titles. In addition to the core games, DLC and exclusives that have been in other editions of BioShock releases will be included in the remasters. BioShock will include Museum of Orphaned Concepts, a digital museum of the different ideas the team at Irrational altered or scrapped as they worked on the original title - unique to the double pack release of BioShock and BioShock 2, and Challenge Rooms, a series of enemy encounters and puzzles with achievement rewards. BioShock 2 will not be including its multiplayer mode or DLC, but it will come along with the Minerva's Den story DLC and the Protector's Trials, which places your in the suit of an Alpha Big Daddy prior to the events of BioShock 2. BioShock: Infinite comes with the excellent Burial at Sea story DLC packs, the Clash in the Clouds survival mode, and the Columbia's Finest Pack, which awards additional in-game resources and weapons. 2K noted in its reveal that the PC version of BioShock Infinite isn't being remastered "because it already meets current-gen console standards and runs smoothly on high visual settings." BioShock: The Collection will release on September 13 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.
  12. After months of teasing, 2K confirmed today that a complete collection of remastered BioShock games will be making its way to retailers. BioShock came out almost a decade ago, so the update will significantly revamp one of the definitive series of the last generation. The collection includes all three BioShock titles, all single-player DLC, all scaled up to the current generation of technology. As Irrational Games has undergone a break from 2K and been radically restructured under series creator Ken Levine, 2K has partnered with Blind Squirrel Games, which has been involved in the creation of games like Borderlands 2, Sunset Overdrive, and BioShock: Infinite. The bundle includes a lot of goodies that may be of interest to BioShock fans that they might not get to see anywhere else. A never before seen video series called Director's Commentary: Imagining BioShock which features Ken Levine, creative director of BioShock and BioShock: Infinite, and Shawn Robertson, the animation lead on the same titles. In addition to the core games, DLC and exclusives that have been in other editions of BioShock releases will be included in the remasters. BioShock will include Museum of Orphaned Concepts, a digital museum of the different ideas the team at Irrational altered or scrapped as they worked on the original title - unique to the double pack release of BioShock and BioShock 2, and Challenge Rooms, a series of enemy encounters and puzzles with achievement rewards. BioShock 2 will not be including its multiplayer mode or DLC, but it will come along with the Minerva's Den story DLC and the Protector's Trials, which places your in the suit of an Alpha Big Daddy prior to the events of BioShock 2. BioShock: Infinite comes with the excellent Burial at Sea story DLC packs, the Clash in the Clouds survival mode, and the Columbia's Finest Pack, which awards additional in-game resources and weapons. 2K noted in its reveal that the PC version of BioShock Infinite isn't being remastered "because it already meets current-gen console standards and runs smoothly on high visual settings." BioShock: The Collection will release on September 13 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. View full article
  13. Singularity, the 2010 first-person shooter from developer Raven Software, hit consoles at a bit of an awkward time. Coming a couple years after BioShock had rocked the gaming industry and become firmly established as a bar against which all atmospheric FPS games would be judged, many wrote Singularity off as a copycat. However, to this day there remains a sizable number of Singularity defenders who adore the time warping mechanics and dark, twisting storyline that embraces a murkier morality. Could Singularity be one of the best games period? Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative. You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. Since the latest couple of flags on our channel have been dropped expect some incoming uploads to the YouTube channel, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! You can also follow the show on Twitter: @BestGamesPeriod Outro music: Mother 'If You Believe' by Jeff Ball, mklachu, Pearl Pixel, and ZackParrish (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR03258) New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday View full article
  14. Singularity, the 2010 first-person shooter from developer Raven Software, hit consoles at a bit of an awkward time. Coming a couple years after BioShock had rocked the gaming industry and become firmly established as a bar against which all atmospheric FPS games would be judged, many wrote Singularity off as a copycat. However, to this day there remains a sizable number of Singularity defenders who adore the time warping mechanics and dark, twisting storyline that embraces a murkier morality. Could Singularity be one of the best games period? Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative. You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. Since the latest couple of flags on our channel have been dropped expect some incoming uploads to the YouTube channel, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! You can also follow the show on Twitter: @BestGamesPeriod Outro music: Mother 'If You Believe' by Jeff Ball, mklachu, Pearl Pixel, and ZackParrish (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR03258) New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday
  15. 2K has confirmed a report from a Kotaku source that it will be shutting down its Australian studio in Canberra. All employees have been laid off, though the publisher has stated it is looking to help those affected find additional opportunities. 2K Australia was one of the final AAA developer based in Australia. Originally a part of Irrational Games as Irrational Canberra, it was spun off into 2K Australia after 2K purchased Irrational in 2006. It worked on all three BioShock titles and most recently released Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! to critical and commercial success. Unfortunately, it appears that the costs of operating out of Australia was a significant factor in the studio's closure. 2K offered the following statement to help clarify the situation: We can confirm we have taken steps to begin the studio closure process for 2K Australia in order to better manage ongoing development costs while improving the working proximity of our creative teams. We are very grateful for the team’s valuable contributions to numerous 2K projects, and are working with affected staff to explore reassignment opportunities where possible. Our hearts and prayers go out to those who've lost their jobs. View full article
  16. Jack Gardner

    2K Australia Shutting Down

    2K has confirmed a report from a Kotaku source that it will be shutting down its Australian studio in Canberra. All employees have been laid off, though the publisher has stated it is looking to help those affected find additional opportunities. 2K Australia was one of the final AAA developer based in Australia. Originally a part of Irrational Games as Irrational Canberra, it was spun off into 2K Australia after 2K purchased Irrational in 2006. It worked on all three BioShock titles and most recently released Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! to critical and commercial success. Unfortunately, it appears that the costs of operating out of Australia was a significant factor in the studio's closure. 2K offered the following statement to help clarify the situation: We can confirm we have taken steps to begin the studio closure process for 2K Australia in order to better manage ongoing development costs while improving the working proximity of our creative teams. We are very grateful for the team’s valuable contributions to numerous 2K projects, and are working with affected staff to explore reassignment opportunities where possible. Our hearts and prayers go out to those who've lost their jobs.
  17. Jack Gardner

    More BioShock Movie Concept Art Surfaces

    The film adaptations of BioShock might both be dead in the water, but Gamespot managed to unearth some of the concept art from the cancelled Gore Verbinski project. There are ten images in total released by artist Kasra Farahani and can be viewed on his website. The art appears to show Rapture's power generators, fueled by Little Sisters. Big Daddies stalk the halls and fight marauding hostiles. Solitary figures absorb blue liquid from overhanging IV tubes. It all looks dour, gloomy, and wistfully beautiful. It is hard not to wonder what the finished film might have looked like. This isn't the first time that concept art has leaked from the cancelled BioShock films. After the initial $200 million budget was slashed to $80 million and Gore Verbinski left the project, 28 Weeks Later director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo was brought on with a new vision. Ken Levine ultimately shut down production on Fresnadillo's version of BioShock, concept art of which can be found on the portfolio of Jim Martin.
  18. The film adaptations of BioShock might both be dead in the water, but Gamespot managed to unearth some of the concept art from the cancelled Gore Verbinski project. There are ten images in total released by artist Kasra Farahani and can be viewed on his website. The art appears to show Rapture's power generators, fueled by Little Sisters. Big Daddies stalk the halls and fight marauding hostiles. Solitary figures absorb blue liquid from overhanging IV tubes. It all looks dour, gloomy, and wistfully beautiful. It is hard not to wonder what the finished film might have looked like. This isn't the first time that concept art has leaked from the cancelled BioShock films. After the initial $200 million budget was slashed to $80 million and Gore Verbinski left the project, 28 Weeks Later director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo was brought on with a new vision. Ken Levine ultimately shut down production on Fresnadillo's version of BioShock, concept art of which can be found on the portfolio of Jim Martin. View full article
  19. I’m going to be trying something a little different with this article and, if you will graciously allow me, I’ll explain why (I apologize in advance if you get no enjoyment out of this or find it altogether terrible). I take my job as a critic seriously. As a result, I have a tendency to read/watch/listen to criticism of not only games, but also of other forms of media. My basic college education focused heavily on literary analysis, which proved early on in my career to be surprisingly applicable. I say “surprisingly” because one of the sentiments I often read in comment sections or hear in conversation whenever a topic compares mediums is how diverse storytelling mediums are too different to have common traits. I am probably simplifying to suit my needs here; however, I can agree that it may seem a bit odd that literary criticism can be helpful when looking at and making sense of video games. But that background is what shapes my perceptions and ultimately shaped how I think about games. To me, video games are another vehicle for narratives. The medium itself has its own language, but it is a Frankenstein’s monster of a language made up of disparate elements from other mediums. For example, have you ever thought while playing a game with fancy, new-fangled graphics, “Why is there a lens flare?” Why do we call them “camera controls” instead of something more blunt, like screen adjustment controls? The answer is because video games often borrow from film. The language isn’t what is important, though. My main point in bringing up the example of film is to be able to segue into the fact that I love reading criticism of all kinds, especially of film, because I find that it often deepens my insight into the medium that I have chosen to involve my life with personally and professionally. In other words, to better understand video games I think it is important to look at what other mediums can teach us about video games, even if it is often an indirect education. There is one critic in particular that I would like to call out as someone who, though primarily focused on film, routinely delves into issues that plague narratives in a way that I find particularly helpful when approaching video games. I am, of course, referring to Film Critic Hulk. Now, I’m not going to go into much detail about who Film Critic Hulk is or his credentials or anything like that, primarily because doing so isn’t terribly important, but also because this person writes anonymously under a pseudonym. Suffice it to say, that this individual is both incredibly smart, eloquent, and someone who can articulate what makes stories work and what makes them buckle or break. The reason I bring up this particular critic goes back to what my first paragraph outlined; namely, I enjoy reading other criticism focusing on other mediums because it broadens my knowledge of those mediums while also shedding light on the one toward which I find myself most attracted. Several nights ago, I found myself reading an older article from back in January of this year about a documentary called The Act of Killing* (which is seriously a fantastic film and an important one, though not necessarily enjoyable or pleasant). In the article, Hulk doesn’t provide a review, but instead dissects how the film succeeds in truly moving an audience to achieve something that can truly change society for the better. I’m afraid that my meaning in the previous sentence was a bit vague, so let me rephrase: Hulk dissects how the film reveals an honest truth about life to the audience. The article is great and I highly recommend that you both read it for yourself and go on to read some of Hulk’s other writings about movies and the film industry. Now you might be wondering about the purpose of all of this preamble. While I was in the process of reading through Hulk’s article, I made numerous connections between the world of video games and the world of film. As I was in the process of making those mental leaps, I thought of how neat it would be if I could give readers a way to arrive at the same conclusions in a similar manner. To that end, I encourage readers to follow me on a small mental excursion to examine video games through (if you will pardon the parlance) the lens of film criticism. And so, we begin. (Note: The writing style of Film Critic Hulk is all caps. I apologize in advance if that irritates you.) --- To begin his essay on The Act of Killing, Film Critic Hulk uses a quote from Andrei Tarkovski: The allotted function of art is not, as is often assumed, to put across ideas, to propagate thoughts, to serve as an example. The aim of art is to prepare a person for death, to plough and harrow his soul, rendering it capable of turning to good. Now, people can debate the definition of art and what art is capable of and how it functions until the end of time, but what Tarkovski seems to be getting at here is that art, all art across all mediums, functions as a way to challenge the soul and mold it into something that can do good in the world. In other words, art reveals an honest to goodness truth about human nature, which is a topic that often leaves people staring at their feet. Real truth is something that forces us to confront reality, an experience that can often be unpleasant, and motivates us to change for the better. Hulk then goes on to say in the essay proper: THE BLUNT TRUTH IS THAT MOST PEOPLE DON'T EVEN THINK OF MOVIES AS BEING VEHICLES FOR IDEAS... OR EVEN AS ART. TO MANY, CINEMA IS A SOMEWHAT DISPOSABLE THING. A WAY TO PASS TIME. A MODE OF ESCAPISM. A LARK. This is where video games come in. You can replace the words “movies” and “cinema” with “video games” and the same blunt truth that applies to film also applies to games. I’d argue that even more so than movies, most people don’t think of video games as being vehicles for ideas, let alone vehicles for truth or something that could be capable of ‘harrowing’ a soul. I’d argue that the average person considers video games to be power fantasies, time sinks to while away youth, or a mental escape from the daily grind of life. Perhaps I am doing the average person a disservice by giving only three very narrow ways of looking at video games as a medium. I think a more accurate statement would be that the average video game player views video games as something trivial. The truth is that many people view video games as 'just games,' a train of thought that the very name of the medium both implies and reinforces. While I do think that there are games that have important ideas to convey and that the medium is capable of revealing human truth, many, many, many video games do their utmost best to be indulgent, escapist, power fantasies. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with a game being an indulgent, escapist power fantasy, but I do think it is easier to carelessly transmit a message that could be harmful through a project that is trying its best to be devoid of narrative ideas. Hulk gets at one of the powerful aspects of stories in the second paragraph which is that, “STORIES CAN TAKE THAT DIDACTIC THING WE CALL ‘ADVICE’ AND RENDER IT INTO EXPERIENCE; MEANING IT CAN MAKE US EXPERIENCE THINGS BEFORE WE ACTUALLY HAVE TO DEAL WITH THEM AND GUIDE US IN THAT PURPOSE.” Empathy is one of the most powerful motivators for human beings and it is empathy that allows us to learn from the experience of others. Video games in particular are suited to learning vicariously through others without having to live through the reality first hand due to how strongly people bond with in-game characters. Or rather, people have a tendency to insert themselves into video game narrative. I’ll approach that previous sentence a bit backwards: Of those of you who played Telltale’s The Walking Dead, which of you talked with friends about the decisions you made? I’m going to take the liberty and assume that it was most of you. Strictly speaking, however, “you” are not a character in the The Walking Dead universe, but that doesn’t seem to matter so much, does it? It still feels like you are the one responsible for whatever befalls Clementine because you were the person making Lee Everett’s decisions. If people can empathize with a character to the extent that they consider the decisions they made for how that character should act as their own actions, that goes far beyond the amount of empathy typically experienced while watching film. We feel as if the challenges and problems faced by the video game protagonist were actually our own. While none of us are likely to live through a zombie apocalypse, the sad truth is that every one of us will at some point struggle with very real issues like depression, hatred, domestic violence, or death. In recent years, there has spring up a small subset of games that explore some of the more deeply tragic and personal aspects of being human. The currently-in-development That Dragon, Cancer puts players in the shoes of a father whose son is going through cancer treatment. Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest attempts to convey what it is like to exist with depression. Papo y Yo deals with alcoholism and abusive fathers. Papers, Please puts players behind the desk to deal with the paperwork of an immigration officer. Cart Life asks players to try to live as one of three street vendors on a small budget. These are games that use stories and mechanics in an effort to promote understanding of and empathy for these various situations. As time goes by there are more of these games being released and concepts outside of “shoot bad guy” being explored. To me, that means I can hold out hope that one day video games will inspire the type of social and societal change that The Act of Killing seems to have produced in Indonesia. Hulk puts The Act of Killing alongside movies like The Thin Blue Line (which gave a man his life back after being wrongly sentenced to life in prison) and Harlan County U.S.A. (the filming of which prevented violence and allowed the coal miners of Harlan County to live better lives without dying from the black lung). While I can rattle off a dozen games that have revolutionized game development or inspired social change within the gaming community, the fact is that, outside of Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. catapulting Mario into cultural ubiquity, I can’t think of a video game that has had an impact on society at large. I believe there are four reasons for this. First, video games are the newest storytelling medium. Film and photography have had over a century to mature and hone their respective crafts, while widespread video game development has been around for less than half that time. This puts video gaming at a severe disadvantage when trying to enact change outside of the core gaming community. Second, though photography and moviemaking both rely on technology for their arts, video games are the most technologically reliant medium. As technology has progressed, the ways games are both presented and played have drastically changed. Compare Pong to Missile Command to Super Mario Bros. to Chrono Trigger to Ocarina of Time to Halo to BioShock to The Last of Us (I know that was a long string of _____ to _______’s. I apologize). Yes, the graphical differences are plainly evident, but generally speaking the advances in technology have affected how well games could tell their stories. In fact, the improvements in graphical fidelity have allowed games to draw upon film for language cues that people new to gaming can more readily understand. Third, though 58% of the American population plays video games, that still leaves 42% who don’t have anything to do with gaming. Gaming probably needs to be as ubiquitous as music and film, or at least close to the level of consumption, in order to really bring about a widespread change that everyone can see and understand. Finally, it is hard to for anything to be taken seriously when its own definition trivializes its importance, which is exactly what the term “video game” accomplishes. According to Google’s dictionary, the definition of a video game is, “a game played by electronically manipulating images produced by a computer program on a television screen or other display screen.” Google then defines the word game as, “a form of play or sport, especially a competitive one played according to rules and decided by skill, strength, or luck.” There are numerous problems with these definitions, but for the purposes of this essay the primary difficulty is that narratives aren’t strictly won or diversionary and the games we are ideally talking about here are the ones that make use of effective narratives. I am convinced that video games will one day move society, but they just aren’t quite there yet. Imagine that the following quote from Hulk’s essay replaces the word “cinema” with “narrative” to illustrate how far video games have left to go: WHAT CAN BE SUGGESTED IS THAT THE ACT OF KILLING IS AN ATTACK ON MITIGATION ITSELF. ONE THAT ZOOMS IN ON THE SPECTACULAR COGNITIVE DISSONANCE AND REFUSES TO RELINQUISH UNTIL WE ACTUALLY FACE IT. AND WHAT THIS FILM IS DOING IN INDONESIA IS SO MAGNIFICENTLY REAL; PRECISELY THE KIND OF REAL-LIFE EFFECT THAT IS SO UNIQUE TO POPULAR CINEMA THAT, QUITE FRANKLY, IT RENDERS ALL THE OSCAR TALK KIND OF SMALL. The plain and simple truth is that video games, for as heartrending, adventuresome, fantastic, and magnificent as they can be, are still in the stage of development where the industry struggles to have award shows. It is an environment where the prospect of putting on an award show with some semblance of dignity is a goal for which many strive. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing either, a quick look at any part of the VGX award show from 2013 proves those people have their work cut out for them. But it is important to remember, especially in a medium as new as video games, that awards should not the end goal. When we are talking about video games that hit the world straight in the gut; games that grab onto a truth and refuse to let go until we collectively face said truth and are changed by it for the better… well, games like that haven’t been made yet, but they are worth waiting for. It should be noted that I am not saying that the narrative-focused video games that we have now are rubbish or that they don’t have great stories or messages. I mean to say that there is nothing like The Act of Killing in video games. The Act of Killing gives its audience something that they need. In fact, most games strive for the direct opposite of need and merely try to deliver what their players want. There is a very large difference between what people need and what people want. Most games cater directly to what people want: power, escape, excitement, puzzles, etc. But very rarely do video games aim to give players something that they might need; video games that present hard truths in a way that we can accept. For that very reason, the number of games that have personally affected me and changed the way I look at the world seems to be miniscule compared to the number of games that I have played. For the record here they are: Shadow of the Colossus, The Stanley Parable, BioShock, BioShock Infinite, The Last of Us, and Mass Effect 3. *Spoilers for Mass Effect 3 in the following paragraph* In fact, many of the points I’ve been getting at so far can be perfectly summed up in going back to Mass Effect 3 and how people reacted to its ending. Now, there are certainly a lot of people out there who felt the original ending didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the narrative (and also that the “extended cut” of the ending didn’t go far enough). I never really felt that way either before or after BioWare released the patch which clarified several lingering questions. The internet threw around the term “entitled gamers” like a slur as tens of thousands of players expressed their dissatisfaction by petitioning BioWare to change the ending of their game. At the time, I questioned why people had the unprecedented outrage that is usually reserved for angry mobs or human rights violations. Let’s be honest, many games have unsatisfactory endings or laughable writing, but even the most disgruntled of gaming communities don’t usually file complaints with the FTC. With the distance of a couple years, it seems obvious that this is a potent example of players inserting themselves into the story; they felt responsible for the actions that Commander Shepard was taking and that gave many a sense of ownership toward the narrative of the Mass Effect franchise. I’d guess that there were a lot of people at BioWare who actually wanted players to feel like the story of Mass Effect was really theirs, but the nature of the story they were telling wasn’t conducive to a satisfying ending catharsis. Mass Effect 3 requires that the Commander Shepard that players have developed and bonded with throughout the course of three games released over five years sacrifice his/her life. That is a huge amount of time and effort put into this story and the ending! While perfectly sound in a traditional narrative sense, it clashed so much with what people wanted from the story that people felt slighted; they felt wronged. The outrage was very real, but so were the other emotional reactions to Mass Effect 3 which at the time were largely overshadowed by the ending controversy. It made people laugh, cry, and rage. It motivated tens of thousands of people to band together for a common purpose. Now that I think about it, Mass Effect 3 could very well be the best example we currently have of how video games can enact change on a large scale. The pressure from the gaming community eventually caused BioWare to buckle and release the extended ending DLC (something that has never sat right with me). It might not be an example of motivating change in a positive or productive direction, but it did unite people to a collective cause on a scale that I haven’t seen in the video game community. Perhaps all of this talk about video games being anything more than fun distractions from real life seems ridiculous to you. But, then, why do we tell stories in video games? Are they just to add texture and context to the gameplay? Why do developers like BioWare attempt to tell nuanced stories dealing with weighty issues in video games? IT WAS A QUESTION ABOUT THE EXISTENTIAL HEART OF WHY PEOPLE WANT TO DO SOMETHING SO TRIVIAL AS TELLING STORIES IN THIS MEDIUM. IT SEEMS SO SILLY IN A WORLD FULL OF PEOPLE WHO DO REAL THINGS. TEACHERS. DOCTORS. FIREFIGHTERS. THE KINDS OF FOLKS WHO FILL THEIR DAYS WITH MUNDANE HEROISMS AND GET LITTLE TO NO RECOGNITION FOR IT (AND OFTEN, THEY GET OUR DISDAIN). BUT THE REASON THIS INDUSTRY CAN FEEL SO HOLLOW AT TIMES IS THAT WE ARE ACTUALLY MESSING WITH SOMETHING INCREDIBLY POWERFUL: THE AFOREMENTIONED LETHAL COMBINATION OF IMAGE AND SOUND. AND IF WE HAVE MADE SOMETHING WITH THE POWER TO MAKE PEOPLE CRY IN 30 SECONDS, THAT CAN MAKE PEOPLE OPEN THEMSELVES UP AND LEARN TO WALK A MILE IN ANOTHER MAN'S SHOES, THEN WHY DO WE JUST KEEP USING THAT INCREDIBLE POWER TO MERELY INDULGE PEOPLE? […] [WHEN WE ASK THAT QUESTION] WE ARE WRESTLING WITH THE FACT THAT WE ARE USING ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL TOOLS ON THE PLANET FOR TRIVIAL PURPOSES. OR WORSE, WHEN WE THINK OF ANWAR RECREATING HIS FAVORITE GANGSTER SCENES, WE CONTEMPLATE THAT WE MIGHT BE DOING SOMETHING THAT COULD EVENTUALLY LEAD TO GREAT HUMAN COST IF NOT HANDLED RESPONSIBLY. Gaming is still at a place where, for all of the digital bullets, death, and games about war, the game that most effectively understands violence is a post-apocalyptic zombie narrative. Seriously, have you ever taken a minute to think about how weird it is that compared with The Last of Us, the Call of Duty or Battlefield franchises feel tame and sterile? The main difference there is that The Last of Us shows us the human costs of taking a life, both in the brutality of animations and in the way the characters are affected by their own violent actions. In comparison, our digital war games approach their topic with all of the nuance, depth, and seriousness of a group of second graders on the playground pretending to have a shootout. I’ve never been a person who thinks that video games inherently make people more violent, but I do think that video games can influence how we think about the world when we accept them without thinking. It isn’t wrong to have dumb shooters set in times of war, but I think there is something wrong and perhaps even irresponsible when almost all war shooters that approach the topic are silly, empty, and fangless. For all of the emphasis Infinity Ward puts into making Call of Duty look and sound authentic, how is it that Valiant Hearts captures the humanity of war better than the last six Call of Duty games? The video game industry is capable of great things, I know it in my bones. Why do we keep using that incredible power to merely indulge people? We have seen through Extra Life that people uniting around their common interest in video games can save lives and change their communities for the better. Imagine if that passion was backed up by games that could inspire a similar revolution in the world. Let us know in the comments if you found this type of writing helpful/interesting or if you weren't to keen on the idea. We'd love to hear from you either way! *The Act of Killing is available on Netflix Instant if anyone is interested in checking it out for free, and a variety of other services for around $9.99. **The image of the sunflower is actually not a real sunflower. It is from Mass Effect 3. Anyone remember where? View full article
  20. Jack Gardner

    Video Games Can Change the World

    I’m going to be trying something a little different with this article and, if you will graciously allow me, I’ll explain why (I apologize in advance if you get no enjoyment out of this or find it altogether terrible). I take my job as a critic seriously. As a result, I have a tendency to read/watch/listen to criticism of not only games, but also of other forms of media. My basic college education focused heavily on literary analysis, which proved early on in my career to be surprisingly applicable. I say “surprisingly” because one of the sentiments I often read in comment sections or hear in conversation whenever a topic compares mediums is how diverse storytelling mediums are too different to have common traits. I am probably simplifying to suit my needs here; however, I can agree that it may seem a bit odd that literary criticism can be helpful when looking at and making sense of video games. But that background is what shapes my perceptions and ultimately shaped how I think about games. To me, video games are another vehicle for narratives. The medium itself has its own language, but it is a Frankenstein’s monster of a language made up of disparate elements from other mediums. For example, have you ever thought while playing a game with fancy, new-fangled graphics, “Why is there a lens flare?” Why do we call them “camera controls” instead of something more blunt, like screen adjustment controls? The answer is because video games often borrow from film. The language isn’t what is important, though. My main point in bringing up the example of film is to be able to segue into the fact that I love reading criticism of all kinds, especially of film, because I find that it often deepens my insight into the medium that I have chosen to involve my life with personally and professionally. In other words, to better understand video games I think it is important to look at what other mediums can teach us about video games, even if it is often an indirect education. There is one critic in particular that I would like to call out as someone who, though primarily focused on film, routinely delves into issues that plague narratives in a way that I find particularly helpful when approaching video games. I am, of course, referring to Film Critic Hulk. Now, I’m not going to go into much detail about who Film Critic Hulk is or his credentials or anything like that, primarily because doing so isn’t terribly important, but also because this person writes anonymously under a pseudonym. Suffice it to say, that this individual is both incredibly smart, eloquent, and someone who can articulate what makes stories work and what makes them buckle or break. The reason I bring up this particular critic goes back to what my first paragraph outlined; namely, I enjoy reading other criticism focusing on other mediums because it broadens my knowledge of those mediums while also shedding light on the one toward which I find myself most attracted. Several nights ago, I found myself reading an older article from back in January of this year about a documentary called The Act of Killing* (which is seriously a fantastic film and an important one, though not necessarily enjoyable or pleasant). In the article, Hulk doesn’t provide a review, but instead dissects how the film succeeds in truly moving an audience to achieve something that can truly change society for the better. I’m afraid that my meaning in the previous sentence was a bit vague, so let me rephrase: Hulk dissects how the film reveals an honest truth about life to the audience. The article is great and I highly recommend that you both read it for yourself and go on to read some of Hulk’s other writings about movies and the film industry. Now you might be wondering about the purpose of all of this preamble. While I was in the process of reading through Hulk’s article, I made numerous connections between the world of video games and the world of film. As I was in the process of making those mental leaps, I thought of how neat it would be if I could give readers a way to arrive at the same conclusions in a similar manner. To that end, I encourage readers to follow me on a small mental excursion to examine video games through (if you will pardon the parlance) the lens of film criticism. And so, we begin. (Note: The writing style of Film Critic Hulk is all caps. I apologize in advance if that irritates you.) --- To begin his essay on The Act of Killing, Film Critic Hulk uses a quote from Andrei Tarkovski: The allotted function of art is not, as is often assumed, to put across ideas, to propagate thoughts, to serve as an example. The aim of art is to prepare a person for death, to plough and harrow his soul, rendering it capable of turning to good. Now, people can debate the definition of art and what art is capable of and how it functions until the end of time, but what Tarkovski seems to be getting at here is that art, all art across all mediums, functions as a way to challenge the soul and mold it into something that can do good in the world. In other words, art reveals an honest to goodness truth about human nature, which is a topic that often leaves people staring at their feet. Real truth is something that forces us to confront reality, an experience that can often be unpleasant, and motivates us to change for the better. Hulk then goes on to say in the essay proper: THE BLUNT TRUTH IS THAT MOST PEOPLE DON'T EVEN THINK OF MOVIES AS BEING VEHICLES FOR IDEAS... OR EVEN AS ART. TO MANY, CINEMA IS A SOMEWHAT DISPOSABLE THING. A WAY TO PASS TIME. A MODE OF ESCAPISM. A LARK. This is where video games come in. You can replace the words “movies” and “cinema” with “video games” and the same blunt truth that applies to film also applies to games. I’d argue that even more so than movies, most people don’t think of video games as being vehicles for ideas, let alone vehicles for truth or something that could be capable of ‘harrowing’ a soul. I’d argue that the average person considers video games to be power fantasies, time sinks to while away youth, or a mental escape from the daily grind of life. Perhaps I am doing the average person a disservice by giving only three very narrow ways of looking at video games as a medium. I think a more accurate statement would be that the average video game player views video games as something trivial. The truth is that many people view video games as 'just games,' a train of thought that the very name of the medium both implies and reinforces. While I do think that there are games that have important ideas to convey and that the medium is capable of revealing human truth, many, many, many video games do their utmost best to be indulgent, escapist, power fantasies. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with a game being an indulgent, escapist power fantasy, but I do think it is easier to carelessly transmit a message that could be harmful through a project that is trying its best to be devoid of narrative ideas. Hulk gets at one of the powerful aspects of stories in the second paragraph which is that, “STORIES CAN TAKE THAT DIDACTIC THING WE CALL ‘ADVICE’ AND RENDER IT INTO EXPERIENCE; MEANING IT CAN MAKE US EXPERIENCE THINGS BEFORE WE ACTUALLY HAVE TO DEAL WITH THEM AND GUIDE US IN THAT PURPOSE.” Empathy is one of the most powerful motivators for human beings and it is empathy that allows us to learn from the experience of others. Video games in particular are suited to learning vicariously through others without having to live through the reality first hand due to how strongly people bond with in-game characters. Or rather, people have a tendency to insert themselves into video game narrative. I’ll approach that previous sentence a bit backwards: Of those of you who played Telltale’s The Walking Dead, which of you talked with friends about the decisions you made? I’m going to take the liberty and assume that it was most of you. Strictly speaking, however, “you” are not a character in the The Walking Dead universe, but that doesn’t seem to matter so much, does it? It still feels like you are the one responsible for whatever befalls Clementine because you were the person making Lee Everett’s decisions. If people can empathize with a character to the extent that they consider the decisions they made for how that character should act as their own actions, that goes far beyond the amount of empathy typically experienced while watching film. We feel as if the challenges and problems faced by the video game protagonist were actually our own. While none of us are likely to live through a zombie apocalypse, the sad truth is that every one of us will at some point struggle with very real issues like depression, hatred, domestic violence, or death. In recent years, there has spring up a small subset of games that explore some of the more deeply tragic and personal aspects of being human. The currently-in-development That Dragon, Cancer puts players in the shoes of a father whose son is going through cancer treatment. Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest attempts to convey what it is like to exist with depression. Papo y Yo deals with alcoholism and abusive fathers. Papers, Please puts players behind the desk to deal with the paperwork of an immigration officer. Cart Life asks players to try to live as one of three street vendors on a small budget. These are games that use stories and mechanics in an effort to promote understanding of and empathy for these various situations. As time goes by there are more of these games being released and concepts outside of “shoot bad guy” being explored. To me, that means I can hold out hope that one day video games will inspire the type of social and societal change that The Act of Killing seems to have produced in Indonesia. Hulk puts The Act of Killing alongside movies like The Thin Blue Line (which gave a man his life back after being wrongly sentenced to life in prison) and Harlan County U.S.A. (the filming of which prevented violence and allowed the coal miners of Harlan County to live better lives without dying from the black lung). While I can rattle off a dozen games that have revolutionized game development or inspired social change within the gaming community, the fact is that, outside of Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. catapulting Mario into cultural ubiquity, I can’t think of a video game that has had an impact on society at large. I believe there are four reasons for this. First, video games are the newest storytelling medium. Film and photography have had over a century to mature and hone their respective crafts, while widespread video game development has been around for less than half that time. This puts video gaming at a severe disadvantage when trying to enact change outside of the core gaming community. Second, though photography and moviemaking both rely on technology for their arts, video games are the most technologically reliant medium. As technology has progressed, the ways games are both presented and played have drastically changed. Compare Pong to Missile Command to Super Mario Bros. to Chrono Trigger to Ocarina of Time to Halo to BioShock to The Last of Us (I know that was a long string of _____ to _______’s. I apologize). Yes, the graphical differences are plainly evident, but generally speaking the advances in technology have affected how well games could tell their stories. In fact, the improvements in graphical fidelity have allowed games to draw upon film for language cues that people new to gaming can more readily understand. Third, though 58% of the American population plays video games, that still leaves 42% who don’t have anything to do with gaming. Gaming probably needs to be as ubiquitous as music and film, or at least close to the level of consumption, in order to really bring about a widespread change that everyone can see and understand. Finally, it is hard to for anything to be taken seriously when its own definition trivializes its importance, which is exactly what the term “video game” accomplishes. According to Google’s dictionary, the definition of a video game is, “a game played by electronically manipulating images produced by a computer program on a television screen or other display screen.” Google then defines the word game as, “a form of play or sport, especially a competitive one played according to rules and decided by skill, strength, or luck.” There are numerous problems with these definitions, but for the purposes of this essay the primary difficulty is that narratives aren’t strictly won or diversionary and the games we are ideally talking about here are the ones that make use of effective narratives. I am convinced that video games will one day move society, but they just aren’t quite there yet. Imagine that the following quote from Hulk’s essay replaces the word “cinema” with “narrative” to illustrate how far video games have left to go: WHAT CAN BE SUGGESTED IS THAT THE ACT OF KILLING IS AN ATTACK ON MITIGATION ITSELF. ONE THAT ZOOMS IN ON THE SPECTACULAR COGNITIVE DISSONANCE AND REFUSES TO RELINQUISH UNTIL WE ACTUALLY FACE IT. AND WHAT THIS FILM IS DOING IN INDONESIA IS SO MAGNIFICENTLY REAL; PRECISELY THE KIND OF REAL-LIFE EFFECT THAT IS SO UNIQUE TO POPULAR CINEMA THAT, QUITE FRANKLY, IT RENDERS ALL THE OSCAR TALK KIND OF SMALL. The plain and simple truth is that video games, for as heartrending, adventuresome, fantastic, and magnificent as they can be, are still in the stage of development where the industry struggles to have award shows. It is an environment where the prospect of putting on an award show with some semblance of dignity is a goal for which many strive. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing either, a quick look at any part of the VGX award show from 2013 proves those people have their work cut out for them. But it is important to remember, especially in a medium as new as video games, that awards should not the end goal. When we are talking about video games that hit the world straight in the gut; games that grab onto a truth and refuse to let go until we collectively face said truth and are changed by it for the better… well, games like that haven’t been made yet, but they are worth waiting for. It should be noted that I am not saying that the narrative-focused video games that we have now are rubbish or that they don’t have great stories or messages. I mean to say that there is nothing like The Act of Killing in video games. The Act of Killing gives its audience something that they need. In fact, most games strive for the direct opposite of need and merely try to deliver what their players want. There is a very large difference between what people need and what people want. Most games cater directly to what people want: power, escape, excitement, puzzles, etc. But very rarely do video games aim to give players something that they might need; video games that present hard truths in a way that we can accept. For that very reason, the number of games that have personally affected me and changed the way I look at the world seems to be miniscule compared to the number of games that I have played. For the record here they are: Shadow of the Colossus, The Stanley Parable, BioShock, BioShock Infinite, The Last of Us, and Mass Effect 3. *Spoilers for Mass Effect 3 in the following paragraph* In fact, many of the points I’ve been getting at so far can be perfectly summed up in going back to Mass Effect 3 and how people reacted to its ending. Now, there are certainly a lot of people out there who felt the original ending didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the narrative (and also that the “extended cut” of the ending didn’t go far enough). I never really felt that way either before or after BioWare released the patch which clarified several lingering questions. The internet threw around the term “entitled gamers” like a slur as tens of thousands of players expressed their dissatisfaction by petitioning BioWare to change the ending of their game. At the time, I questioned why people had the unprecedented outrage that is usually reserved for angry mobs or human rights violations. Let’s be honest, many games have unsatisfactory endings or laughable writing, but even the most disgruntled of gaming communities don’t usually file complaints with the FTC. With the distance of a couple years, it seems obvious that this is a potent example of players inserting themselves into the story; they felt responsible for the actions that Commander Shepard was taking and that gave many a sense of ownership toward the narrative of the Mass Effect franchise. I’d guess that there were a lot of people at BioWare who actually wanted players to feel like the story of Mass Effect was really theirs, but the nature of the story they were telling wasn’t conducive to a satisfying ending catharsis. Mass Effect 3 requires that the Commander Shepard that players have developed and bonded with throughout the course of three games released over five years sacrifice his/her life. That is a huge amount of time and effort put into this story and the ending! While perfectly sound in a traditional narrative sense, it clashed so much with what people wanted from the story that people felt slighted; they felt wronged. The outrage was very real, but so were the other emotional reactions to Mass Effect 3 which at the time were largely overshadowed by the ending controversy. It made people laugh, cry, and rage. It motivated tens of thousands of people to band together for a common purpose. Now that I think about it, Mass Effect 3 could very well be the best example we currently have of how video games can enact change on a large scale. The pressure from the gaming community eventually caused BioWare to buckle and release the extended ending DLC (something that has never sat right with me). It might not be an example of motivating change in a positive or productive direction, but it did unite people to a collective cause on a scale that I haven’t seen in the video game community. Perhaps all of this talk about video games being anything more than fun distractions from real life seems ridiculous to you. But, then, why do we tell stories in video games? Are they just to add texture and context to the gameplay? Why do developers like BioWare attempt to tell nuanced stories dealing with weighty issues in video games? IT WAS A QUESTION ABOUT THE EXISTENTIAL HEART OF WHY PEOPLE WANT TO DO SOMETHING SO TRIVIAL AS TELLING STORIES IN THIS MEDIUM. IT SEEMS SO SILLY IN A WORLD FULL OF PEOPLE WHO DO REAL THINGS. TEACHERS. DOCTORS. FIREFIGHTERS. THE KINDS OF FOLKS WHO FILL THEIR DAYS WITH MUNDANE HEROISMS AND GET LITTLE TO NO RECOGNITION FOR IT (AND OFTEN, THEY GET OUR DISDAIN). BUT THE REASON THIS INDUSTRY CAN FEEL SO HOLLOW AT TIMES IS THAT WE ARE ACTUALLY MESSING WITH SOMETHING INCREDIBLY POWERFUL: THE AFOREMENTIONED LETHAL COMBINATION OF IMAGE AND SOUND. AND IF WE HAVE MADE SOMETHING WITH THE POWER TO MAKE PEOPLE CRY IN 30 SECONDS, THAT CAN MAKE PEOPLE OPEN THEMSELVES UP AND LEARN TO WALK A MILE IN ANOTHER MAN'S SHOES, THEN WHY DO WE JUST KEEP USING THAT INCREDIBLE POWER TO MERELY INDULGE PEOPLE? […] [WHEN WE ASK THAT QUESTION] WE ARE WRESTLING WITH THE FACT THAT WE ARE USING ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL TOOLS ON THE PLANET FOR TRIVIAL PURPOSES. OR WORSE, WHEN WE THINK OF ANWAR RECREATING HIS FAVORITE GANGSTER SCENES, WE CONTEMPLATE THAT WE MIGHT BE DOING SOMETHING THAT COULD EVENTUALLY LEAD TO GREAT HUMAN COST IF NOT HANDLED RESPONSIBLY. Gaming is still at a place where, for all of the digital bullets, death, and games about war, the game that most effectively understands violence is a post-apocalyptic zombie narrative. Seriously, have you ever taken a minute to think about how weird it is that compared with The Last of Us, the Call of Duty or Battlefield franchises feel tame and sterile? The main difference there is that The Last of Us shows us the human costs of taking a life, both in the brutality of animations and in the way the characters are affected by their own violent actions. In comparison, our digital war games approach their topic with all of the nuance, depth, and seriousness of a group of second graders on the playground pretending to have a shootout. I’ve never been a person who thinks that video games inherently make people more violent, but I do think that video games can influence how we think about the world when we accept them without thinking. It isn’t wrong to have dumb shooters set in times of war, but I think there is something wrong and perhaps even irresponsible when almost all war shooters that approach the topic are silly, empty, and fangless. For all of the emphasis Infinity Ward puts into making Call of Duty look and sound authentic, how is it that Valiant Hearts captures the humanity of war better than the last six Call of Duty games? The video game industry is capable of great things, I know it in my bones. Why do we keep using that incredible power to merely indulge people? We have seen through Extra Life that people uniting around their common interest in video games can save lives and change their communities for the better. Imagine if that passion was backed up by games that could inspire a similar revolution in the world. Let us know in the comments if you found this type of writing helpful/interesting or if you weren't to keen on the idea. We'd love to hear from you either way! *The Act of Killing is available on Netflix Instant if anyone is interested in checking it out for free, and a variety of other services for around $9.99. **The image of the sunflower is actually not a real sunflower. It is from Mass Effect 3. Anyone remember where?
  21. To those of you still clinging onto some hope that BioShock Vita might still be happening, I'm sorry. To the rest of you, prepare to visit Rapture once more on iOS sometime this summer. Despite the recent shuttering of Irrational Games, 2K Games retains the rights to make more BioShock titles, including re-releasing past BioShock games. Thus, 2K tweeted today that BioShock will be coming to iOS sometime "soon." Screenshots have also appeared on the web, which you can check out on the Extra Life Facebook page. Even though BioShock came out seven years ago, 2K Games' China studio clearly had to make some sacrifices in the graphics department to fit within Apple's size limits. While Extra Life hasn't had any direct hands-on time with the mobile title, Endgaget has a great preview that details their brief stint with iOS BioShock. View full article
  22. Jack Gardner

    The Original BioShock Goes Mobile

    To those of you still clinging onto some hope that BioShock Vita might still be happening, I'm sorry. To the rest of you, prepare to visit Rapture once more on iOS sometime this summer. Despite the recent shuttering of Irrational Games, 2K Games retains the rights to make more BioShock titles, including re-releasing past BioShock games. Thus, 2K tweeted today that BioShock will be coming to iOS sometime "soon." Screenshots have also appeared on the web, which you can check out on the Extra Life Facebook page. Even though BioShock came out seven years ago, 2K Games' China studio clearly had to make some sacrifices in the graphics department to fit within Apple's size limits. While Extra Life hasn't had any direct hands-on time with the mobile title, Endgaget has a great preview that details their brief stint with iOS BioShock.
  23. Jack Gardner

    The End of Irrational Games as We Know It

    Yesterday, Ken Levine, the head of Irrational Games, announced that following the release of the final DLC for BioShock Infinite he would be massively down-sizing his studio to focus on smaller, replayable, digital-only games. For those of you interested in Levine's goodbye letter, you can read it over on the Irrational website. For those of you wondering what happened, I'll try to break down the situation. Bear in mind that no one right now knows what went on behind closed doors between Ken Levine and publisher Take-Two Interactive and that some of this analysis will dip into speculative territory. Here are some of the things we do know: Irrational Games was the studio that created BioShock and BioShock Infinite, two of the most widely acclaimed titles of the previous console cycle. About 90% of Irrational will be out of a job when all is said and done, leaving Ken Levine and about fifteen other people with a place in the studio. Ken Levine wants to be a part of a smaller team with more creative freedom and not just be a BioShock IP machine. Finally, 2K now has the rights to the BioShock series. What initially struck me about this announcement wasn't excitement regarding Ken Levine's next project or that we can expect to see more games like BioShock 2. I just couldn't stop thinking about how huge Irrational Games was and how over 100 incredibly talented programmers, artists, writers, and scripters will now be looking for work and contemplating relocating their families because... well, we don't really know why. Taken on a surface level, it could seem like Ken Levine and his creative desire to return to a smaller studio might be the reason so many people are out of work or that Levine saw the writing on the wall and decided to jump ship with his closest development leads. However, I don't think that's the case at all. I don't know Levine, but I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt and think that he genuinely cares about his employees. In his farewell message, Levine mentions that he had been planning on striking out as an independent developer. After meeting with publisher Take-Two Interactive the company convinced Levine to stick with them along with the smaller team he desired. I find it likely that Take-Two Interactive saw this as a way of keeping their high-profile industry auteur while also drastically cutting costs. Maybe BioShock Infinite didn't make back quite as much money as the publisher would have liked, given the AAA budget and massive marketing campaigns. Perhaps the commercial failure of other projects like XCOM: Declassified put pressure on Take-Two to save money elsewhere. Whatever the case, Take-Two probably saw this as a win-win business scenario and gave Levine the go ahead to work on his smaller project. Ultimately, the reason these talented game makers and world builders will cease to be a part of Irrational isn't, as I'm sure some fanciful journalists might like to believe, the result of one man's creative callousness or hubris, but rather a cold, mundane business decision. Someone somewhere crunched the numbers and they stacked up against the continued existence of Irrational Games as we know it. This is how the video game industry works these days. Take-Two has every right to make this move. At the same time, business decisions like this that lead to the difficult and often harsh working conditions that plague the people who make the games we enjoy. Irrational's situation is just the most visible symptom of a larger problem. As for Ken Levine and his remaining team, what kind of a game can we expect to see out of them in the next few years? Reading between the lines, Levine wants to make a game that focuses on telling a compelling narrative while also being replayable and digitally distributed. This might seem a bit odd because most games that focus on narrative aren't necessarily the most replayable games. However, if you played BioShock Infinite, you might remember that throughout the game you made a handful of small choices. Admittedly, those choices had little impact on the overall story of Infinite, but what I thought was awesome about those few moments was how well they were woven into the core game. If I were to go out on a limb, I'd say that Levine wants to make a game similar to The Stanley Parable, a game whose narrative changes organically depending on how you play the game and respond to scenarios rather than with onscreen prompts or pauses in the gameplay. To me, that seems to fit with the ideas being highly replayable while also focusing on its narrative. It would also explain why such a long period of design would be required. I would also hazard a guess and say that it might be an FPS, given Levine's history with that genre. It really sucks whenever a studio loses so many great people, especially when it is one of the most talented game developers in the AAA gaming space. My heart and prayers are with those people and their families. As one of my colleagues put it, "Maybe the next great indie developer will rise out of the ashes of Irrational. Good could come out of this yet." What do you guys think about Irrational's ending? Also, here is a link to one of my favorite "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" covers.
  24. Yesterday, Ken Levine, the head of Irrational Games, announced that following the release of the final DLC for BioShock Infinite he would be massively down-sizing his studio to focus on smaller, replayable, digital-only games. For those of you interested in Levine's goodbye letter, you can read it over on the Irrational website. For those of you wondering what happened, I'll try to break down the situation. Bear in mind that no one right now knows what went on behind closed doors between Ken Levine and publisher Take-Two Interactive and that some of this analysis will dip into speculative territory. Here are some of the things we do know: Irrational Games was the studio that created BioShock and BioShock Infinite, two of the most widely acclaimed titles of the previous console cycle. About 90% of Irrational will be out of a job when all is said and done, leaving Ken Levine and about fifteen other people with a place in the studio. Ken Levine wants to be a part of a smaller team with more creative freedom and not just be a BioShock IP machine. Finally, 2K now has the rights to the BioShock series. What initially struck me about this announcement wasn't excitement regarding Ken Levine's next project or that we can expect to see more games like BioShock 2. I just couldn't stop thinking about how huge Irrational Games was and how over 100 incredibly talented programmers, artists, writers, and scripters will now be looking for work and contemplating relocating their families because... well, we don't really know why. Taken on a surface level, it could seem like Ken Levine and his creative desire to return to a smaller studio might be the reason so many people are out of work or that Levine saw the writing on the wall and decided to jump ship with his closest development leads. However, I don't think that's the case at all. I don't know Levine, but I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt and think that he genuinely cares about his employees. In his farewell message, Levine mentions that he had been planning on striking out as an independent developer. After meeting with publisher Take-Two Interactive the company convinced Levine to stick with them along with the smaller team he desired. I find it likely that Take-Two Interactive saw this as a way of keeping their high-profile industry auteur while also drastically cutting costs. Maybe BioShock Infinite didn't make back quite as much money as the publisher would have liked, given the AAA budget and massive marketing campaigns. Perhaps the commercial failure of other projects like XCOM: Declassified put pressure on Take-Two to save money elsewhere. Whatever the case, Take-Two probably saw this as a win-win business scenario and gave Levine the go ahead to work on his smaller project. Ultimately, the reason these talented game makers and world builders will cease to be a part of Irrational isn't, as I'm sure some fanciful journalists might like to believe, the result of one man's creative callousness or hubris, but rather a cold, mundane business decision. Someone somewhere crunched the numbers and they stacked up against the continued existence of Irrational Games as we know it. This is how the video game industry works these days. Take-Two has every right to make this move. At the same time, business decisions like this that lead to the difficult and often harsh working conditions that plague the people who make the games we enjoy. Irrational's situation is just the most visible symptom of a larger problem. As for Ken Levine and his remaining team, what kind of a game can we expect to see out of them in the next few years? Reading between the lines, Levine wants to make a game that focuses on telling a compelling narrative while also being replayable and digitally distributed. This might seem a bit odd because most games that focus on narrative aren't necessarily the most replayable games. However, if you played BioShock Infinite, you might remember that throughout the game you made a handful of small choices. Admittedly, those choices had little impact on the overall story of Infinite, but what I thought was awesome about those few moments was how well they were woven into the core game. If I were to go out on a limb, I'd say that Levine wants to make a game similar to The Stanley Parable, a game whose narrative changes organically depending on how you play the game and respond to scenarios rather than with onscreen prompts or pauses in the gameplay. To me, that seems to fit with the ideas being highly replayable while also focusing on its narrative. It would also explain why such a long period of design would be required. I would also hazard a guess and say that it might be an FPS, given Levine's history with that genre. It really sucks whenever a studio loses so many great people, especially when it is one of the most talented game developers in the AAA gaming space. My heart and prayers are with those people and their families. As one of my colleagues put it, "Maybe the next great indie developer will rise out of the ashes of Irrational. Good could come out of this yet." What do you guys think about Irrational's ending? Also, here is a link to one of my favorite "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" covers. View full article
  25. Sometimes it can be hard for the average video game enthusiast to find interesting video game art to adorn the walls of their abode. Luckily, there are skilled artists in various corners of the internet willing to sell their work for a fair price. Etsy is one such corner. For those of you who aren't familiar with it, Etsy is basically the arts and crafts hub of the internet. People make clothes, furniture, jewelry, art, etc. and put it up for sale on the site, usually at quite a reasonable price. Given the popularity of video games, it isn't at all surprising that a significant portion of the Etsy artists and craftspeople decide to put out products inspired by some of their favorite video game titles. As you scroll through these awesome artistic renderings, bear in mind that these represent a small fraction of the work available on the main site. Click on the images for a better look at the artwork, or visit the linked Etsy pages for more details. BioShock - Minimalist by CaptainsPrintShop - $20 BioShock - Watercolor by CaptainsPrintShop - $20 BioShock Infinite Poster from WestGraphics - $18 BioShock Infinite Elizabeth by WilliamHenryDesign - $20 Doom II Poster from Kitschaus - $30 Fallout - Minimalist by CaptainsPrintShop - $20 Final Fantasy Tactics Poster from Kitschaus - $30 Ico Poster from Kitschaus - $20 Journey Poster from Geeky Prints - Price ranges from $4.99 to $51.99 depending on print size Mass Effect Series by WilliamHenryDesign - $25 Mega Man Screen Printed Poster by InspirationxCreation - $19 Mega Man Buster Cannon by AndrewHeath - $10 Metal Gear Solid V - Snake by 2ToastDesign - $19.95 or $39.95 depending on size Minecraft - Life Goals by MrSuspenders - $39.95 PITFALL Atari 2600 Retro Vintage Classic by RobOsborne - $20 Pong-inspired 8-bit Poster by minimalpixels - $16.77 Portal - Hello by DirtyGreatPixelsUK - $16.77 or $33.54 depending on size Portal - The Cake Is A Lie by WestGraphics - Price ranges from $18 to $50 Secret of Mana Poster from Kitschaus - $20 Shadow of the Colossus by bigbadrobot - Price ranges from $17 to $38 depending on size Shadow of the Colossus from Kitschaus - $25 Smash Bros. Link vs. Mario by NukaColaFan - $11.99 Sonic the Hedgehog by VICTORYDELUXE - $6.99 Star Fox by NukaColaFan - $14.99 Street Fighter Character Sakura Alpha In Cubes by BITxBITxBIT - $30 The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time from Kitschaus - $20 The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker from Kitschaus - $35 The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker by PoppyseedHeroes - Currently unavailable, but it still looks incredibly awesome! TRON poster from adamrabalais - $20 Yeah, I know this isn't a video game per say, but it's close enough in my book. XCOM Classic Ironman by MrSuspenders - $39.95 Let us know which ones were your favorites!
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