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The Backlog — 2013

I played a lot of games this year– a fair number of new ones, and a fair number of games from the backlog. Briefly, here are some thoughts on the most important games I played this year that weren’t actually released this year:

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Yes, I held out against my friends’ constant barrage of recommendations for nearly a year, but I did finally get around to starting XCOM, and yes, it is amazing and compelling and heartbreaking. I hope to be through the game within the month, and then again on Classic Ironman, and then I will probably buy Enemy Within when it goes on sale on Steam and oh dear do we see now why I held out for so long?

Spec Ops: The Line

After reading Brendan Keogh’s Killing is Harmless, I knew I had to play Spec Ops. And boy, was that a good decision. What a dark, unsettling, and yet deeply enjoyable game. It doesn’t quite succeed at being the “Apocalypse Now of videogames,” but it certainly asks some great questions about a player’s participation in violence. I don’t even know if it purports to have answers–but oof, those endings. Yikes.

Professor Layton and the Mask of Miracles

It’s a shame that the Professor Layton games will never get traction with those who don’t dig their primary mechanic, because it’s a continual delight to me how much they invest in their characters (and their melodrama). Each new entry manages to offer some real, personal stakes to the Professor and his apprentices, and to help them grapple with each new puzzle is a charm unlike most everything else gaming has to offer.

The Walking Dead, Season One

Oh man. Oh man. *sigh* Wow. How about that finale, huh?

The World Ends With You

Why in Heaven’s name isn’t Square Enix giving us more new IP? Bravely Default excepted. (On that note, I’m very excited for Bravely Default.)

 

There have been others, I think, but those five are the ones that really left their mark on me this year. I missed enough of the best games of 2013 that I imagine my backlog will be quite full for the year to come!

 

 

Towerjam Submission!

Hey, folks. I heard about Maddy Myers‘s game jam, “Towerjam,” an effort to get some games made about characters that are usually not the focus–NPCs, captive princesses, parents and children left behind, and the like. 

I’m no designer, but I HAVE been meaning to mess around with Twine for a good long while, and this was the catalyst for me finally getting off my butt and making it happen. 

So, I wrote a (brief, abstract, somewhat circular) Twine adventure. It’s about Chrono Cross. 

Why not give it a go? While you’re at it, check out the rest of the Towerjam submissions. And maybe go replay Chrono Cross!

Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games

So, Kotaku today pointed me to the first of Anita Sarkeesian’s “Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games” videos, and a quick viewing proves it to be pretty well put together stuff!

I applaud Ms. Sarkeesian’s critical (and yet blindingly obvious) reading of some of the medium’s most abundant series, and the discomfort I feel at once more being confronted with the pervasiveness of these tropes in the amusements of my youth is exceeded only by my frustration when I think about how much cooler these series would be if their narratives didn’t rely on such simple formulae. Is it that hard to give a princess a shot at heroism (or at least, you know, agency)?

And now, of course, I’m about to hop back to Yamatai to help Ms. Croft fill some cultists full of arrows. I’m not going to think too hard about how much progress that is, and in what direction.

Lara and I

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This can’t be a very long post, because I’m only a few hours into the game, but I wanted to put to paper (figuratively speaking) some of my thoughts about the nature of the player/character relationship, as I see it, and how it manifests in the new Tomb Raider.

I’ve been watching my wife play Mass Effect 2 for the past couple weeks, and she (like me) is playing as a female Commander Shepard. Shepard, of course, is very much an avatar of the player–one can design Shep’s facial features, gender, hair color, and to a large extent, demeanor and personality. The dialogue system in the Mass Effect series offers enough variety that Shepard’s actions are able to mirror the player’s intent to a very large degree, even in cutscenes.

Shepard isn’t a perfect avatar, of course–sometimes you’ll pick a line of dialogue that doesn’t quite come out of the Commander’s mouth in the way you’d like it to–but there is enough control there, enough choice, that I have always associated myself with Shepard whenever I’ve played. I’ve noticed that my wife has been doing the same. Liara isn’t Shepard’s “space girlfriend,” she’s mine. (Same goes for Lt. Alenko and my wife. Space boyfriend.) Playing as a female avatar hasn’t made me feel less associated with Shepard. Gender doesn’t seem to have much to do with this association.

So it felt a little weird to me, playing through the new Tomb Raider, when I realized that I wasn’t thinking of Lara as myself–I was thinking of her as a teammate. Immediately, I checked myself against all the patronizing controversy that I’d read in the run-up to the game’s release: Was I thinking of Lara as a scared little girl that I had to “protect?” Criminy, I hoped not.

And I wasn’t. Not really. But I was thinking of Lara as someone I was working with, rather than as, in order to keep her (us) alive through abominable circumstances. In moments of tension, I found myself talking aloud to my television, telling Lara what a terrible business we were in the middle of and asking her to work with me so we (she) wouldn’t die. Is this cognitive dissonance, or am I being pedantic?

I can tell you that I had the exact same relationship with Leon S. Kennedy when I first played through Resident Evil 4. In fact, some of my friends can attest to my intense frustration anytime I died playing that game, because I felt passionately as though I was failing my virtual partner (and in another sense, breaking the narrative–Leon wasn’t supposed to get his head chainsawed off; the story derailed because of my incompetence, etc.).

These characters are agents, not avatars, meaning they are not meant to be an embodiment of the player in the game’s world. But I find myself wondering, as I play through Lara’s story, how my relationship with her is going to change over the course of the narrative.

Zombies Ate My Neighbors — Chainsaw Hedgemaze Mayhem

I’m trying to get into the Halloween spirit, here, and Zombies Ate My Neighbors seems like as good a place as any to start.

Wow, is this game ever all over the place, musically speaking. Some of it can get quite annoying, but it all really nails the “haunted house” vibe, if by “haunted house” we’re talking about the kind of attraction that is terrifying to children and disturbing on an entirely different level to their adult relatives. It’s chirpy, cutesy, and grotesque in a way that isn’t violent or bloody, but rather, just… weird.

Take a look at this advertisement from when the game was released in 1993:

Can you even tell what’s going on there? It’s a little hard.

Zombies Ate My Neighbors is one of those nineties games with ‘tude. On a scale of ‘tude, in fact, it’s probably somewhere below Battletoads and ToeJam and Earl, but definitely higher than, say, Tomba! Tomba wasn’t exactly known for his ‘tude, I guess.

I’m getting off topic. The point is that Zombies Ate My Neighbors is radical to the max, and if it’s a little rough around the edges, we forgive it, because we didn’t have Left 4 Dead when it was released, and it was just about the only place to go to for zombie-slayin’ co-op for about fifteen years. It still holds up pretty well, as a matter of fact, and if you’ve got a means of playing it with a pal, I’d highly recommend it. It advertises 55 levels, but I never saw anywhere close to that. I kept getting killed by that giant baby.

If the original track by Joe McDermott up above, “Chainsaw Hedgemaze Mayhem,” isn’t spooky enough for you, have a listen to the jam below: Protricity’s “Neighburgers” remix takes the original and puts a little polish on it, making it a suitable soundtrack for any Halloween party to which you’d like to bring some funk. Just keep some exploding sodas and holy water squirt guns on hand… just in case.