Suda 51, A Career: 2015-2051

The mild financial and critical success of DEATH or Glory fuels Suda’s subsequent vanity project, the inexplicable arthouse wrestling game Tokyo Takedown! Driven by the developer’s neurotic passion for masked wrestling, the game offers a throwback to his first foray into videogames in 1993, Super Fire Pro Wrestling III: Final Bout.

Irresponsible fund allocations result in the game’s superstar voice actor Troy Baker performing the roles of every single character. A number of highfalutin reviewers mistake this setback as a commentary on the lonely, solipsistic lives of masked wrestlers and their inability to form identities outside their masked façades.

Read my full cover story with original art by Amber Harris at Unwinnable Weekly Issue 34.

Imaginary Real Places: Forza Horizon and the American Open Road

Racing games have always been an oversight in games writing, partly because it’s often difficult to write analytically and lyrically about a genre devoid of distinctive style (hence: generic), but also because critics simply snub racing games as uncomplicated fare. This kind of thinking is deceptive, disavowing the potential for stylistic authorship in any and all areas of videogame craftsmanship. Simply put, Forza Horizonboasts a confident, finely realized sense of style and setting more cultivated than even some AAA titles with an attempted overarching narrative and tone. Unlatching from the characteristic urban sprawls or nondescript racing circuits of comparable racing games, Horizon instead sets its eyes on a far more ambitious artistic project, seeking to paint a panoramic, open-world simulacrum of Colorado in broad strokes with the genre as its canvas.

Read the full text at Thumbsticks.

Split Screen Series: Reflections on Max Payne 3

Split Screen Series is a critical dialogue of videogames by Justin Keever of Virtual Narrative and Miguel Penabella of Invalid Memory, investigating the stories, themes, aesthetic choices, gameplay, and formal properties of videogame art.

Experiencing Max Payne 3 entails a world of tensions and thematic bifurcations. It’s a work of urgent artistry, both an introduction of its hardboiled world to a new, high definition generation and a culmination of the grimier imaginings that came before. Rockstar elevates Remedy’s pulp genre franchise with more loaded ideas and more expressive moments, remarkably lucid yet ultimately blurred with an aesthetic of sundering intoxication. Yet the game foregrounds this dissonance rather than back away from it. We enter Max’s world to escape our own reality even as he longs to break free from his misery; his restoration at the conclusion of the game means returning to our own lives.

Read the full critical dialogue on Virtual Narrative.

Slouching Towards Los Santos

Sunlight catches the desert haze, sifting light through the veil as dusty coughs emanate from the tailpipes of rusty jalopies and broken machinery. Worn signs tell of faded histories, the accumulating dust covering up vivid memory with barren apathy in a forgotten desert watering hole. A vulture squawks in the distance, foretelling death’s harsh presence in a land seemingly outside time’s grasp. A simulacrum of Salton Sea and abandonment, colossal mountain panoramas frame the trailer trash and gasoline truck stops nestled in a lonesome Californian valley.

There’s beauty in the disheveled Californian landscapes that define San Andreas in Rockstar Games’ herculean effort Grand Theft Auto V. Under the shade of towering palm trees and tattered Googie signage, this beauty lives in the breathing, flourishing world of the city and surrounding countryside. Too bad so many missteps spoil the hushed tranquility of Rockstar Games’ triumphant landscapes.

Read the full text at Haywire Magazine.

Better Beans and Bacon: Notes on Skyrim

When stepping into one of the many taverns and inns after journeying across the windswept plains and peaks of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, all I want for my protagonist is to retire to a comfortable corner of the room and tuck into a satisfying dinner. One of the most fulfilling pleasures of the wintertime follows from here: to return from a frigid, exhausting day and welcome the cozy warmth and dimly lit familiarity of homespun lodging. In Skyrim, these taverns present an approximation of this nostalgia. Rustic wooden interiors softly lit with candlelight and populated with a scattering of fatigued travellers express a comfy space suitable for respite. Tables laden with Skyrim’s savory cuisine – pheasant roast, sliced goat cheese, Honningbrew mead, beef stew, spiced wine, grilled leaks, salmon steak, apple pie – surround an open hearth that breathes light and vitality to the setting. The stage is set and snug; my player-character hunkers down amidst the fire.

Read the full text at Thumbsticks.

Living the Dream: An Allegory for Breaking Procedure

What happens when videogames frustrate narrative lucidity and the expected norms of play? Every Day the Same Dream, a 2009 short game authored by Paolo Pedercini and his Italian collective Molleindustria, resists the formulaic patterns of videogame composition to produce new meaning. Gaming essayist Braxton Soderman points to Molleindustria’s penchant for disruptive play, recounting the developers’ ability to “…confront a variety of political, economic, and social issues, embracing a form of design ‘that aims at starting a serious discussion about social and political implications of videogames’” (Soderman). This critical analysis of Every Day the Same Dream locates not only the social and political objectives of the game but also its buried critique of videogame form itself. In offering cyclical patterns of gameplay and monotonous imagery, Pedercini emboldens the ability to break videogame procedure, evoking McKenzie Wark’s notion of allegorical play and destabilizing the procedural rhetoric that Ian Bogost longs to agitate. Moreover, Every Day the Same Dream affirms the expressive capacity of videogame language, antagonizing the generic conventions recycled by familiar algorithms and prosaic authorship.

Read the full text with a discussant’s reply by James Paul Gee at First Person Scholar.

Pseudo Game Jam 2014 – Speechless

Speechless is a first person suitor game, or a meet ‘em up, though it challenges the generic framework of both. Specifically, Speechless aims to resist the conventions of dating sims or romance visual novels that objectify women as merely sexual “goals” in the service of heterosexual male fantasy.

The player assumes the role of an employee who works for a company that relays break-up messages for clients unwilling to face their own loved ones directly. Think of it as a romance text-based game without the love.

Read my first place-winning entry at First Person Scholar.