Well, I’ve inaugurated a new video series, and I’ve done so smack dab in the middle of an academic quarter. Perhaps inadvisedly! We’ll see if I can keep up a regular schedule for this series, which dives deep into the storytelling techniques of the Last of Us franchise.
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.
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.
Er, that is, “Let’s Study Half-Life 2, Part 3″ confirmed.
(That is to say, it’s live now on Youtube.)
This video is the longest so far, and will likely be the longest video of the whole seven-part series. Putting these together has been taking a lot out of me, so expect somewhat shorter installments in the future, along with longer breaks between each installment. (I won’t be posting more than one a week, now.)
It will likely take me longer for me to get part three up. (I’m thinking Monday, April 2nd, at the earliest.) This is the last video in the series that borrows heavily from my dissertation and prior course materials—subsequent videos will delve deeply into new material, which means they’ll be spaced out more.
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: Linearityis 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!
Hello, dear readers. It’s been a while since my last post, and to make up for the gap, I have come bearing a video. Specifically, another video in my “Let’s Study” series. This one is fairly short, zooming in on the technique of “scrubbable narrative” in Tacoma (The Fullbright Company, 2017).
Special thanks to Amy Stebbins on this one, who directed me Alan Alston’s 2013 article “Audience Participation and Neoliberal Value: Risk, Agency and Responsibility in Immersive Theatre,” which ended up forming the backbone of most of the observations in this one.
Even those who would reject the idea that videogames are an “art form” could agree that games can exhibit certain traditional aesthetic values. One prominent one is elegance. If we look toward traditional, analogue games, it seems inarguable to me that Go is elegant, and that Chess is elegant. Over the course of centuries, the tumbler of human culture has worn them down to their most perfect, least messy forms. (And they often come in supremely visually pleasing packages, to boot.) Looking to the history of videogames, it seems uncontroversial to propose that Tetris (Alexey Pajitnov, 1984) and Breakout (Atari, 1972) also exhibit this serene mixture of simplicity and grace.
Of course, videogames can also be bloated and unrefined. On the audiovisual level, the public imagination has long associated the medium all that is cacophonous and retina-searing: a ceaseless stream of crude stimulation optimized for goldfish-like attention spans. A peek at the output of PlatinumGames or Treasure over the past decade demonstrates that this conception is not entirely unearned. On the design side of things, games often come packaged with an inordinate amount of mechanical cruft. To boot up a contemporary Ubisoft game is to be assaulted by map icons, as the core activities of the game are augmented with collectibles and minigames and side-challenges and online player “invasions” and microtransactions and and and and and and and and and….
Sometimes, though, you can point to a game and say, “this is exactly what it needs to be, and no more.” Sometime a game stands as a perfectly-cut gem of craft, with every element contributing to an overall sense of balance. Its user interface is a triumph of usability, compact and graceful. Its color scheme is tamped-down and meaningful. Its sound design is minimal and expertly-deployed. It is thematically tight: if there is a narrative involved, it is a lean and coherent one. It is, overall, soothing in its form, even if it might simultaneously be stressful in its challenge.
The first five games of this list all chase this sort of technical perfection. Some are small, and some are large, but they all are careful not to hit one unnecessary note.