It’s been a long haul, but my series of video essays on Half-Life 2 is now complete.
I have embedded the entire finished series above. If you just want to watch the seventh and final part, it is here. In it, I look at how Valve’s “herding” techniques were adopted and expanded upon by subsequent developers, taking a peek at things like Insomniac Game’s Resistance 3, Monolith Production’s 2000s-era output, and DICE’s Mirror’s Edge Catalyst. I then investigate how the pleasures of the well-constructed linear first-person shooter have been transformed and absorbed into himitsu-bako/wander games (which I just give up and call “walking simulators” in the video, so that people will know what the hell I’m talking about).
Creating video content takes much longer than other types of blog content, but I also find it much more rewarding. (I was right when I predicted that, because my day job has me writing all day long, I would have less patience for it outside of work.) Expect more in the future.
Much like yesterday’s category, today’s sub-list is partially a lament that baseline competency in storytelling seemed so long unachievable in games. Defending games as a potential storytelling medium seemed like a silly project, as the games stories had opted to tell just simply weren’t very good. Good stories need good characters. Creating characters as good as the ones listed above, in any medium, is probably an unrealistic goal. But it’s not unrealistic to ask for characters with interesting personalities and motivations.
If I am being perfectly fair, games have historically struggled less with characters than they have with pacing. The 1990s and early 2000s are filled with RPGs and adventure games with memorable characters, even as they might struggle to recount their stories efficiently. In the wake of GLaDOS, though, the ante has been upped. I am happy to report that developers have risen to the challenge. The past decade has been awash in sharply-penned dialogue, superb voice acting, and richly emotional character beats. Here are a few of my highest recommendations.
If I had to sum up a significant portion of the writing I do on videogames, I would offer the following formulation as a précis: The establishment of character in videogames isn’t achieved solely through writing. It is also established through user interface design.
Sometimes, something as simple as how a cursor behaves can tell us a lot about a character. Be forewarned—the breezy tour through the issue below contains significant spoilers for Firewatch (Campo Santo, 2016).
I spent the first week of 2017 catching up on things I hadn’t played from 2016. But all play and no work makes Ian a dull boy, so it’s time to get back to writing, even if it’s of the casual sort.
Fair warning: In this post I’m going to dip into some unapologetic formalism as a way of best expressing some otherwise entirely subjective reactions. Obviously, there are pitfalls to this. Formalism puts off some. Unabashedly subjective attempts at criticism puts off others. But, whatever—this is my blog, and sometimes I like to post things that aren’t lesson plans. (Also, a note: I’m going to have fewer of those posted in the foreseeable future. I’ve posted most of my best lessons from past courses at this point, and I’m only teaching one class this term, one I’ve taught before.)
Below the fold, I play with some vocabulary, and offer thoughts on three more interesting games of 2016. These are short takes, and it is quite likely that I will be writing more on some of these in the near future.