Let’s Study Half-Life 2, Pt 5

Part 5 is up!

Parts 1 & 2 were adaptations of existing material—namely, the first chapter of my dissertation, and this lesson plan. Parts 3 & 4 consisted mostly of newly-generated material. Part 5 returns to being an adaptation of existing writing—this time around, this blog post.

I had to scale back my ambitions for this particular video. Originally, it was going to feature a tour through some .OBJ outputs of the coastline maps, following in the footsteps of Robert Yang’s visualizations. Everything was going smoothly for awhile: I successfully extracted all the necessary textures with GCFScape, successfully opened the maps in Crafty, and got myself an education license for Maya. But try as I might, I just couldn’t quite pull off the trick that Yang did, and get the textures to affix to the .OBJ files. (He kind of glosses over that crucial step the blog post.) All I could produce were textureless grey blobs of level geometry.

So I fell back on a tried-and-true method of compositing a bunch of noclip screenshots in Photoshop. In addition to not having that cool 3D model look, it was also an enormous time sink, though, and slowed me down a lot. C’est la vie, I suppose.

Script below the jump.

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Let’s Study Half-Life 2

For the past couple of months, I have been hard at work at a new “Let’s Study,” the most ambitious so far. It’s for Half-Life 2, and I foresee it being spread over seven parts. Part One: Linearity is now posted.

There’s a lot of material in this particular Let’s Study adapted from the first chapter of my dissertation, as well as material I developed when teaching the Half-Life franchise in class (including this lesson from my “Comparative Media Poetics” course). My first “Let’s Study” was just a playthrough with some commentary and a bit of b-roll; for this particular series I’m really leaning in to the video essay format more, trying to create shareable versions of what are basically class lectures, or conference presentations. This particular series is still geared very much toward a general audience, but I’m using it as prep for potential future adaptations of dissertation material into video essay format for submission to a genuine peer-reviewed academic video essay journal.

As usual, the script is below the fold. Part two coming soon!

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Games of the Decade: Endings


A week ago, I laid out that videogames typically have bad pacing. Did I also mention that videogames far too frequently to have bad endings, too?

No? Well, they do. So often, in fact, that I can lay out five distinct schools of bad videogame endings. Below, I list out those five traps of videogame endings, and how the games I have chosen to end my own list with escape those traps.

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Games of the Decade: Pacing


The question of whether videogames should attempt to tell stories was all the vogue in game studies in the late 90s and early 2000s. You’re less likely to encounter the issue in academia today (unless said academics are writing think pieces at The Atlantic.) But it is still very much an ongoing debate in game development: it isn’t too difficult to still find opinionated developers launching screeds against linearity, against the single-player campaign, and against games’ subservience to the logic of cinematic storytelling.

As is so often the case in such conversations, there is a temptation to jump directly to a categorical assessment, leaping over qualitative assessment entirely. The categorical question “should games tell stories?” is a good way to start a rousing bar fight of a debate. Alternately, the qualitative question “do games, as we know them, have a history of telling stories well?” will most likely lead to the reasoned response, “no.” This, in turn, will possibly lead to further avenues of polite and potentially incisive inquiry, such as “why do you suppose that is?” and “are there any ways that we could chart new types of storytelling that might be more compatible with games’ basic features?”

I’m going take the polite and careful qualitative route, not really because I prefer it (I enjoy a rousing debate as much as anyone else), but because I actually think it’s necessary to set the groundwork before making any larger qualitative claims.

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Knowing More Than We Can Tell


Ian here—

What follows are three quick case studies on a favorite topic of mine: the knowledge differential, or epistemic gap that can sometimes open up within the player-avatar relation. I find all three of them fascinating for the questions they raise about narration in videogames, as well as the alignment between player and player-character.

What follows does not yet qualify as analysis. This is simply a critical appreciation of a few moments that have made me think. Perhaps it will act as a prolegomena to further, more properly analytical, writing.

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Mapping the Synesthetic Interface


Ian here—

The following is the spoken presentation version of my talk from DiGRA’s 2014 conference in Snowbird, UT. The full paper, as drafted up for the conference’s proceedings, is available here. You can follow along with the visual presentation for this spoken version here.

Today, I’d like to address a cluster of game user interface design options that I have lumped together under the category of synesthetic interfaces. By this, I’m referring to interfaces that perform a sensory substitution, translating the information normally associated with one sense modality into the phenomenal forms normally associated with another. This is part of a larger interest of mine of examining approaches within game UI design in terms of the epistemic strategies they enact when establishing the relation of players to their avatars, and avatars to their worlds.

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Lesson Plan: Skill, Perception, and Epiphany across Cinema and Videogames


Ian here—

What follows is a lesson from my 2013 course “Comparative Media Poetics: Cinema and Videogames” at taught U Chicago. On the docket for this week: displays of intelligence and expertise in cinema (from Buster Keaton films to contemporary action cinema), and the ways in which the needs for interactivity force a very different visual style in games than we see in contemporary cinema.

The screening/play-session hybrid that lead up to this class included clips from The General (Buster Keaton with Clyde Bruckman,1926), College (Buster Keaton with James W. Horne, 1927), Casino Royale (Martin Campbell, 2006), and The Bourne Ultimatum (Paul Greengrass, 2007), the latter of which is our primary concern here. It also included students playing portions of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception (Naughty Dog, 2011) and Mirror’s Edge (DICE, 2009). Readings for the week included selections from Noël Carroll’s book on Buster Keaton Comedy Incarnate, and a chapter from James Paul Gee’s book Why Video Games Are Good for Your Soul.

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