Saturday 26 November 2011

First Person Problems (or, the alternate history of modern genres)

Measure for Measure tries hard but pales beside classic comedies like As You Like It and Much Ado About Nothing. 6/10”
– Official Playhouse & Bear-Pit Magazine, 1605

If you want to analyse videogames you have to struggle with the problem that half our critical discourse comes from bullet points on the back of a box. Even as academics and bloggers strive to establish a new conceptual vocabulary, their lexicon still carries the trace of promotional material, their terms of art taken from features lists. This does not make our critique somehow degenerate or ‘impure’ – but it does risk obscuring and occluding ideas the market left behind. Nowhere is this more clear than in the evolution of the first person game.

When Shakespeare’s plays were first published in 1623, seven years after his death, his literary executors – former colleagues John Hemmings and Henry Condell – faced a dilemma about what to call them. Sometime rival Ben Johnson had been viciously mocked in 1616 for releasing his collected plays as ‘Works’, a label too elevated and serious for an art form still considered two steps away from prostitution. But, by the same token, 'Plays' would position their book at the whorehouse end of the market. H & C, convinced that their late comrade deserved better, trod a middle path and published what’s now known as the First Folio under the title of ‘William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories and Tragedies’. 

It wasn't a big deal. Many of the plays had once been advertised as different genres entirely, or as more than one throughout their lifespan. A few didn't fit into any in particular. Yet until the twentieth 
century most critics took the Folio's classifications at face value - and some, assuming strange or hybrid plays like Measure for Measure were supposed to be straight comedies, assessed them sternly by that yardstick.

Sunday 20 November 2011

Review: Infantry Combat

Brindles do reviews? Why, yes. If you choose to read the review below, go to section 2. If you choose not to – maybe you’re too good for such things, or maybe your child is wailing next door – stop off at section 1.

SECTION 1: Ravenous mice burst from a lesion in your thigh and consume the rest of your body before destroying it in a series of star-bright antimatter detonations visible (after ninety minutes) from Saturn.

SECTION 2: You settle down peacefully to a review of Infantry Combat: The Rifle Platoon. Since the game is actually an interactive novel in dead tree form, picked up in New York City for a dollar, you have the rare experience of reading a videogame review written in the same medium as the game itself – just as as Wolfenstein 1d might be considered a prescient review of Modern Warfare 3.  

Friday 11 November 2011

The Assassination of Rockstar by the Coward John Brindle (or, three design failures in Red Dead Redemption)

Revenge. It’s an ugly word, but I’m an ugly man. I tried to start a new life of peace and fulfilment – I started playing Red Dead Redemption. But now the work of just one blogger has turned that all to ashes. They say this path never ends anywhere good. Maybe. Maybe not. But I’m damn sure I’m going to end the son of a bitch who spoiled that game for me.
As you can see, I get a bit carried away with the idea of the Wild West. Yet RDR itself leaves me somewhat cold, and the dirty no good rotten spoiler in question – Lee Kelly over at Ambient Challenge – has perceptively summed up the reasons why. The game’s visuals and sound are immaculate; it shimmers (to steal a phrase) with droplets of purest atmosphere, and, for a game, I guess the writing’s okay too. But Redemption is so entangled in the design conventions of the GTA series that its mechanics never live up to its aesthetics. I want to expand Spoiler Kelly’s critique to illuminate three major structural ways in which Redemption fails the challenge of its Wild West setting.

Tuesday 1 November 2011

CS:GO interview, elsewhere

A secret identity of mine has colluded in an interview at fan site, talking to Valve's (and OldManMurray's) Chet Faliszek about the upcoming Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. This blandly-named but interesting project will simply update CS for modern systems, and the limited scope of its changes is testament to how confident Valve are in the basic rules of the game. Perhaps they have good reason to be: it's still popular, and Chet contends the world yet has a place for it. There's also some stuff about the schisms in the competetive community and how player-bases respond to changes and updates.

Read it (if it please you) in three parts:
Part 1: "We won't change the rules of CS"
Part 2: "It's hard to accept change"
Part 3: How long will CS last?