Category Archives: Videogames

From Topical to Timeless

I’m revisiting the idea of a hosting a podcast about videogames.

The truth is that my playing habits have changed a lot, and are much less eclectic than they once were. I’m at a place in my life where I may spend several months playing the same game, because I have other priorities, and also because the kind of game that I enjoy the most usually takes anywhere from 40 to 100 hours to finish.

So it would not be especially interesting to hear me talk about what I’m playing.

One thing I would like – because I think it is fun – would be to comment on the current videogame news. The world of video game journalism is a bit lacking in content, but there’s at least one news item every week that’s worthy of comment.

The problem with this is that this kind of content is one that by nature is not valuable over time. Yesterday’s news no longer mean anything to anyone, tomorrow.

But is it possible to distill such news into more general themes, timeless themes?

The comments are open for this one; your opinion is welcome.

A Stranger’s Kindness

The best online games (or games with online components) are those that are designed to provide moments of spontaneous cooperation. That is, they are made to be played solo, but in a way that the player’s fate inevitably intersects with that of other players.

Most modern MMOs work like this. Even 15 years ago, there were few moments more fantastic in World of Warcraft than saving a stranger (or being saved by one) from an enemy ambush. But even the simple gesture of curing or blessing a stranger met on the road made our hearts smile. In modern WoW, these situations are less common, but not extinct.

But the ultimate exponent of this philosophy is probably the Dark Souls series. Here are games that require the player to display mastery over them; games that do not forgive mistakes… Unless… You find a mark left by the spirit of another player, ready to help you with information about the upcoming dangers, or even by offering a spiritual hand to fight by your side. Even in death, these spirits are generous – they allow us to witness a replay of their final moments, giving us the chance to deduce the nature of the deadly perils ahead.

You can’t arrange to play Dark Souls with a friend, at least not without some sort of trickery. And that’s by design. The message is powerful: in your darkest moments, there is no balm like the unexpected help of a stranger.

Photo Credit: Gotham Game Chronicles Flickr via Compfight cc

A Bad Horse

“Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” says the proverb. But the intention behind the gift should be held up to scrutiny.

The latest digital game store, née Epic Games Store, store offers a free new game every two weeks to anyone who creates a (free) account.

It is a fantastic initiative. These are not amateur games, nor especially old ones – although, in the world of video games, a two-year-old game may seem ancient.

But I feel this is a missed opportunity. The price of games is a big barrier to entry, to bringing new people to the world of video games. This free games initiative could be used to showcase to this audience – the audience who only knows one or two games from the YouTubes – some of the classics of the last handful of years. It would have to be a selection that would simultaneously be representative of what is good in video games, and accessible to less experienced people.

Instead, the games offered are games that are a hard sell for initiates, games that appeal far more to veteran players who, for one reason or another, didn’t play them when they were released.

Games like Super Meat Boy or Axion Verge are great for me, a guy who has been into this for over two decades, but will be of zero interest my younger sister. And Thimbleweed Park may remind my father of the adventure games of old, but it will only make him conclude that nothing has changed in the intervening 25 years.

On the other hand, the fantastic Tetris 99 on the Switch was a success in this regard. Nintendo is, as usual, way ahead in the game. Good to see someone bringing the right horse!