Kotaku AU have run my review of the Saboteur today. Not the same as the post I made here a few days ago, but a common theme did come up in both.
The Saboteur was released in 2009 and represents the swansong for Pandemic Studios, who were closed down shortly after its release. I have to wonder how long prior to the completion of The Saboteur the development team or upper management at EA knew the studio’s fate – a death knell may explain the disappointing lack of polish I experienced playing this game. That disappointment was all the more intense for the raft of great ideas and a wonderful setting chosen for this game.
Full text at Kotaku.com.au
In response to this week's US Supreme Court ruling in the Brown (Schwarzeneggar) vs. Entertainment Merchants Association case, I've written another editorial for Kotaku AU. As an American living here in Australia, I'm feel I'm in a fairly unique position to use this case as a backdrop for our own discussion of content regulation. There will probably be more discussion of this here in the near future, as a lot of the commentary following my article seems to genuinely miss my point, or rather the point of the discussion.
In another in a series of pieces discussing largely unanswerable questions, this piece will examine the relevance of the ‘canon’ to an interactive form such as Mass Effect. The background to this discussion is the overall controversy regarding sex in videogames, and why it is such a difficult subject to handle well, that began in particular regarding Mass Effect a few years ago. More recently, speculation surfaced and inspired a heated debate regarding the possibility of expanding same-sex relationships with previously-established characters in Mass Effect 3. The debate, while very likely motivated by personal aversions to non-heterosexuality in general, revolved around canonical and continuity objections. My question here is, can an interactive medium have a non-interactive canon? Who is to say what the truth is, in a medium where nothing is true, and everything is permitted?
I'm getting a lot of mental mileage out of this topic, and I'm spreading the thoughts out in various outlets. This blog post is one version of the thinking. I will be developing it further in a paper I'm presenting in July at an academic conference, and I had a chat to Mark Serrels over at Kotaku AU for a slightly more approachable take (albeit with slightly different concentration). There is a lot more to be said about Mass Effect, romance, fiction and simulation and I hope to be involved in saying. For now, let's begin with this discussion of canon.
This is a few days late, but in the interests of keeping a reasonable record of what I’ve written and posted around the net, I am making an entry for my latest piece on Kotaku’s AU website. Anyone familiar with my writing and thinking on games will undoubtedly recognise these ideas, but once again its a thought piece which intends to generate some critical discussion among the public, non-academic readers of Kotaku. Thanks again to Mark Serrels for his support with this project, and thanks for the by-line this time! I exist for reals now!
Kaiden or Ashley? Rescue or Harvest? How do you make decisions in video games? Video games were described by Sid Meier as ‘a series of interesting choices.’ Indeed, many good video games today involve choices that go beyond which gun to use or how fast to run through a room. Many involve decisions between two general strategies, or like the above examples between two characters or responses that affect the rest of the game. The question here is, how do those choices matter?
I want to suggest that there are two different types of choices available in video games, and wish that there was a third. The first I will call a ‘mechanical choice.’ These are the kind that may not even seem like choices to experienced gamers, as they are built into the mechanics of the game. These are the ‘choice’ to grab a Mushroom in Mario, or to pick up a sniper rifle in Call of Duty while standing on a rooftop. Do you upgrade your sword and armour or not? Of course you do these things, because they help you to beat the game. Mechanical choices are economic: they make the player-character (or his allies) more powerful.
The second kind of choice is a ‘narrative choice.’ These are the kinds of decisions that affect the fiction/story of the game, but not the relative power of the player-character. By rescuing either Kaiden Alenko or Ashley Williams in Mass Effect, the strength of the overall party isn’t affected, since the two characters are more or less interchangeable given the right balance of the other party members. We do not have the option to rescue both, so a loss is inevitable. The only difference is which personality you lose. Playing as a good or evil Cole in inFamous is a general strategy (like any other good/bad split we see so often these days), but doesn’t affect the strength of the hero either way. Each power is balanced against its opposite, so in the end, a Cole of either alignment has equivalent firepower.