Home is Where the Hearth is

Hearthstone InnkeeperOver at the ever eclectic Overthinking It, Richard Rosenbaum overthinks Hearthstone as a “third space,” a sociological phenomenon where people use outside of home and work to connect to one another. Rosenbaum makes some compelling connections and uses the game to describe how complicated our understanding of “space” has become in the digital age.

2014 in Retrospect

haywire headingIn a 15-part retrospective of 2014, Haywire Magazine has gathered a long list of games writers, including yours truly, to pinpoint some of the outstanding titles released last year. Although it seems like a daunting list at first, each description hardly spans a few hundred words, and it’s a great starting point for those looking for a primer on what they might have missed in 2014 or for those looking for a second take on their favourite games of last year. While the list is no more exhaustive than it is exhausting, it’s a fun and positive look at the year that was and a decent measuring stick against what 2015 has to offer.

Here be Dragons

dragon-age-inquisitionAJ Hollandsworth takes to Game Church‘s fine pages to discuss the various religions in the Dragon Age universe, with particular focus on the latest, Inquisition. Although Hollandsworth is a bit frustrated with “the Chosen One” trope guiding the narrative, he’s nonetheless impressed with how the player’s inquisitor must never shed their humanity.

As the author says, “DAI echoes Frank Herbert’s eternal warning to “Beware of heroes” and embrace mindfulness of the sometimes horrifying truths behind religion and fanaticism.”

The Last of Us in Retrospect

the last of usA negative consequence of release hype is that the first word often gets mistaken for the last one. Speaking of the last of stuff, The Last of Us is one of those games that instantly enraptured the gaming world. Since summer of 2013, though, it’s quietly slipped off everyone’s radar.

Ben Matlock returns to The Last of Us two years removed from the hype to see how it holds up. While he enjoyed the game, he seems a lot more willing to criticize it without trying to protect or destroy it. He says of the ending:

…[protagonist] Joel wants to go into “John McClane” mode again, I am left further away from understanding his mentality than I was throughout the entire game. It’s not a matter of what I would have done in his position, but a matter of the game convincing me this is a natural way for him to act…

The entire retro-review can be found on Njoystic and it’s a good read for those still curious about the game or those interested in seeing a discussion about the game removed from the cacophony that erupted with its release.

God Forgotten: Peter Molyneux and the Failed Promise of the Curiousity Cube

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I’m perhaps the Curiousity Cube‘s staunchest defender: I tapped away at the cube for hours–bits here and there–as a means of releasing anxiety. There was a brilliance to the cube and its alternating layers of colours and images. A surprise waited beneath each layer, waiting to be peeled back, one brick at a time. At the centre of it all, we were told, was promise of a life-changing prize for the person that tapped away that final cube.

Bryan Henderson had the honours and with it was told he’d become the “God of Gods” in the (at the time) upcoming Godus. In addition, he’d receive a royalty from the game. For one reason or another, development hell or mismanagement of a different nature, this has not happened.

Eurogamer tells the story.

Deus Ex Symphonia

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Spend enough time playing games and sooner or later you’ll find “that game.” “That game” is not your favourite, it might not even be very good, but it is the one that fascinates you so deeply you can’t help but keep a special place for it in your heart. Tales of Symphonia seems to be “that game” for Devon Carter, who began an extensive and personal retrospective of it for his personal blog, Silver Grindings (great name, by the way).

Sure, Carver’s first essay on the game is plenty analytical, but at the same time it’s keeps a personal approach that often seems to get lost when we approach games either as a cold technical or literary artifact. Carver’s essay is a big one and it’s filled with spoilers, but it’s definitely worth a look. If nothing else, it’s a reminder that games can be looked at critically and personally without sacrificing the writer’s integrity.

In case you want to safeguard from Symphonia spoilers, Heather Alexandra wrote another personal critical essay on a different JRPG, Skies of Arcadia. Like Carver, Alexandra maintains her own voice during a retrospective of her personal experiences with a game.

Nintendo’s Past and Future tension

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Nintendo’s had it’s ups and downs, and while there’s no shortage of arimchair experts weighing in on the storied developer’s future, Eric Johnson compares its current rut with past ones to suggest that things might just be different this time:

By positioning itself as the gaming company for everyone, Nintendo was no longer competing against just Microsoft and Sony. It was now fighting all manner of distractions, from smartphones to online video streaming services. The original NES was called an “entertainment system” for marketing reasons, but now everything is an entertainment system.

Sure, sure, Nintendo has been declared dead enough times that it’s old hat by now, but Johnson’s piece is worth a look because it goes the extra step of contextualizing Nintendo’s current situation with previous ones. It’s less a death knell than it is an exploration of the ever limiting options the storied developer has available to them.

By no means will this be the last word on the subject, but it is an interesting one.

Apex 2015: The Tournament That Almost Wasn’t

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If you’re a fan of Super Smash Bros. then watching Apex 2015 should have been high on your list of priorities. Hundreds showed up to play, with more than 1000 going for the Melee tittle.

The tournament had no shortage of memorable matches–both official tournament matches and off-the-books money matches–worth watching and worth studying. It was a good time setting up a stream at home, inviting a few (15) friends over, and enjoying the tournament from countless miles away.

But it was almost the tournament that didn’t happen. Red Bull eSports does a good job summarizing the situation that almost caused the tournament to cancel. More than this, it shows the resilience of the Smash Bros. community.

This isn’t the definitive piece on this story–that’s yet to come–but for now it’s a great recap.

The Making of the Hobbit

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Coming from Retro Gamer is a retrospective look at the development of The Hobbit, a text-based adventure released on The Spectrum.

Obscure? In some circles, maybe, but this became a revered title that set the stage for other text-based adventures to come.

You see, The Hobbit did things its contemporaries weren’t yet doing:

[A]nother of Veronika’s goals with The Hobbit was to fashion a text adventure that was less linear, more flexible and more replayable than most of its predecessors: “The way I handled that was really just to add randomness” [...] Each character was given a list of actions that cycled – something like: pick up randomly chosen object; go in random direction; if someone’s in the room, give them a random object; go in a different randomly chosen direction and put a randomly chosen object down. The loop would be started in a random place and the character went off and did its thing. “Just the very interaction of the characters is what made the game complex at that point, and behaviour emerged out of that,” adds Veronika.

The creation of The Hobbit was about flexibility more than anything:

The Hobbit’s system was almost the opposite: instead of strict solutions, there were a small number of puzzles that had to be solved in specific ways, but most merely had a set of conditions that needed to be met. If you managed to meet those conditions in a way different to how Veronika had imagined, the problem would still be solved.

It’s an interesting read worth your time. While I’ve never played The Hobbit, I’m aching to after reading this feature!

Read more over at Retro Gamer.

Ranking the Publishers

We usually get a chuckle from “The Final Bosman” but this one stands out from recent affairs.

In it, Bosman arbitrarily ranks a plethora of publishers, echoing what many of us arbitrarily do on a daily basis. Because why not?

I’m not sure if his “A” tier selection is inspired or silly, so I’ll leave it for you to decide.