Archive for the ‘ Gaming ’ Category

Happy Hour – April 29

Following a busy week working on longer-term projects, I’m about to take the weekend to go recharge my batteries out at Julian Murdoch’s place. I’m not sure he’s prepared for the stack of board games I’m going to bring out. I’ve got the Panzer General card games, and the new BattleTech box set. I’m also debating bringing Tribune out with me, because that is long-overdue for a playthrough.

Also, I may require some Agricola during my visit. I know few people who are as devoted to that game as Julian, and MK and I are always happy to get a chance to play it. There are also rumors that he has converted his house to a pinball palace, which I’m eager to see.

With such good company, and a badly needed change of scene, I may not be doing much video gaming. That’ll just make it all the sweeter when I get back on Monday and get back to work.

In the meantime, check out this week’s 3MA, in which we have a legal expert on the show to talk about how far copyrighting can extend to elements of a game design.

Happy Hour – April 22

Having just submitted my last bit of work for the week, I turn my thoughts to how I will be spending this rare bachelor weekend. Certainly I will start it right by paying a visit to my friend J.P. Grant of Infinite Lag. There will be board gaming, but I think we’ll keep it light tonight. Some Pandemic and Formula D should do nicely. Perhaps some Weinhandler too?

There is some work I have to do this weekend. Duty compels me to play Revolution Under Siege, a wargame about the Bolshevik revolution and Russian Civil War. It’s a nifty setting, but I wonder if I’m tired of the AGEOD system. I hope not: Pride of Nations is coming soon.

To occupy my empty days, I may do a GP weekend in F1 2010, and spend the lonely nights with F.E.A.R. I also hope to get in some late-night strategy gaming with the likes of Company of Heroes or Men of War, but that depends on having friends who will stay up with me.

Man, I really need to stop indulging my passion for gaming antiquity. My stack is a mile high, and I’m playing a six year-old FPS.

Update: Oh, fuck it. Portal 2 can come, too.

Friday Debrief

A few people have requested in comments and in emails that I provide blog entries and links when I have new work going up, a sensible point when considering RSS readers. So we’ll see how a Friday round-up goes.

This week, you can find my reaction to Enslaved over at Gamers With Jobs. I do worry I came down a little harshly on it: the first half is really excellent, and justified my purchase. But ultimately it’s not just a story, but a videogame, and not a very good one.

I was also on the GWJ Conference Call to talk about Valve and a few of my recent gaming obsessions with Cory Banks, Sean Sands, and Allen Cook. I don’t know what it is about the Conference Call, but it makes me more argumentative and ornery than usual. Maybe it’s because someone else is hosting, and so I delight in throwing out conversational hand grenades. Ironically, back when I just listened to the show, I hated Cory for playing this role. When he was the only guy who thought Flower was overrated, I thought he was just being a contrarian dick. Then I played Flower, and saw the value of being the guy who sets the Hyperbole Theater on fire.

If you head down to you local newsstand, you may find the June issue of PC Gamer. It contains a review of Portal 2, but we don’t care about that here. We care about me. So go pick up the June issue for a new Tactical Advantage column on the state of RTS communities in the age of Starcraft II, a review of the lame APOX, and the excellent Men of War: Assault Squad. In retrospect, I probably should have just asked for more space for Men of War, as the word count was a little crowded for the angle I took. Still, you have to try different things.

Finally, on Three Moves Ahead, we talked about the Panzer General series and got into a whole dust-up over whether it’s even a good wargame, and how that series introduced players to a classic genre conventions.

The Columnist at Dawn

Since I’m up unusually early this morning with nothing to do, I may as well put this time to use by explaining why this blog is going dark so frequently. You know the outlines of it, of course. I’m busier than ever and am trying to accommodate a new pace of work. However, now that it’s in black and white, I should talk about my new life as a PC Gamer contributor.

When Troy paid the boatman to ferry him over to the PR side of the business, Dan Stapleton asked me if I would take over the strategy column and review work that Troy had been doing, since he already knew me from 3MA. Most of my work has yet to show up in print, because of the way schedules work, but if you hit the newstands now, you’ll find my inaugural column.

Honestly, if you like reading my work, you should really subscribe to PC Gamer, because I am doing an absolute ton of writing for the magazine right now. This week alone has me putting together a wargame review, a guide, a preview, and a column. Although I’m biased, I would also have to say the rest of the magazine is pretty damned good, too. It’s far better than what I remember from when I let my last subscription lapse several years ago. The columnists are great (Andy Mahood remains one of my favorite game writers) and I abs0lutely love how the previews get beyond the sale pitch and raise questions about the games under discussion. My editor didn’t bat an eye when I explained in a preview for the website why The Darkness II was as repulsive as it was enticing.

This is good, because writing for the magazine has me doing the kind of assignments I’d always thought I would prefer to avoid. I don’t know how I’d write a blandly positive preview about something I really didn’t care about, and fortunately I’ve not had to find out. The biggest challenge is writing to the low word-counts of a print magazine. At the start of this week, I had to distill a crummy week with a game to less than 300 words. That’s a totally different experience than the web pieces I’ve done to date.

But it does mean that my time is more limited than ever. Still, enough people have been prodding me about this blog, and in particular some projects I’ve left unfinished, that I will set aside some time to write some long-overdue pieces. In the meantime, however, I strongly suggest checking out the “Work” tab in the upper right of this page for links to my latest pieces, and subscribing to PC Gamer.

Three Moves Ahead PAX East Meet-Up

At 11 am on Sunday during PAX East, Julian and I will be hosting a little Three Moves Ahead Sunday Brunch, and I hope to meet many of you there. To that end, I have made a reservation at Lucky’s Lounge, which is near the convention center.

Now, I had a rough estimate of how many people would be there, but I am starting to suspect we might have more than that. So if you plan on coming, please let me know in this thread or by emailing me at zacnyr [at] gmail [dot] com. That way, I can tell the restaurant what to prepare for.

Here are the vital facts:

I hope to see you there.

Alan Wake Reconsidered

I said that this year I would try and stretch myself a bit as a writer, and that’s always a fraught endeavor when you’re doing it on someone else’s dime in front off a big audience. Fortunately, The Escapist came through as it always has in my career and gave me space to do a close, critical reading of Alan Wake in order to provide a revisionist view of the game.

It’s the kind of thing that sounded awesome as I was pitching it and playing through the game for a second time, but was easy to start doubting once I began working on it. By the time I sent back my final draft, I was convinced that the response was going to be a collective eye-roll. I liked my analysis, and I thought it was pretty damned sound, but I know there are a lot of people who resist reading deeply into videogames, especially ones as flawed as Alan Wake.

Fortunately, the article got an incredibly warm reception both from the audience at The Escapist and my acquaintances on Twitter. No piece I’ve written this year has given me as much satisfaction, with several people writing to express how thoroughly my article changed their view of the game. There is not much more that I can ask of my work.

While I stuck pretty close to what is actually in the game, and I can readily defend just about every claim that I make in the article, I will admit that my interpretation still owes a great deal to my own experiences. I have written several times over the last year about the difficulty of balancing my emotional investment in my work with other aspects of my life, and how sometimes work seems to be crowding out the other things I love. Approaching Alan Wake with those fears weighing on my mind, it was not hard for me to make the connection between the game’s plot and the conflicts I face as someone doing what I love for a living, dependent on steady stream of decent ideas and good words, and the pain I feel when they seem to dry up.

A few people raised their eyebrows at the connection I drew between the savior figure in Alan Wake, Thomas Zane, and Bioshock. I think the use of an old, porthole-covered diving bell is too heavily associated with Bioshock to be accidental, but I will readily grant that once again my own experiences inform my analysis here.

2007 changed everything for me, and Bioshock was a major part of that. It was the first time I really heard the kind of serious, intelligent discussion of videogames that I had long wanted to have, and Bioshock was the topic of discussion that year (as it has remained, in many ways). Bioshock didn’t sequester itself from intellectual life the way so many games do. It was in dialogue with the books I read in college on history and political theory, and critics were receptive to that. There have been other games that could make you think, other games that didn’t flinch from asking harder questions or engaging with their historical moment, but Bioshock was the first time that the stars aligned and serious critical discussion of a videogame entered the mainstream.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Alan Wake started production in 2005, Bioshock came out in 2007, and the character in the game has not been able to accomplish anything in two years. The game itself did not come out until 2010, and it’s not hard to imagine that 2007 might have been the year when the Alan Wake project finally started to gather some momentum after lengthy delays and creative struggles. And from my own experience, I can see where Bioshock might have played a role in the story.

Anyway, I hope you go and read the piece. This kind of analysis isn’t something I’ve done much, but I had an absolute blast with it.