Let’s Study Half-Life 2, Pt 4

So, I actually uploaded this one to Youtube on Thursday, but forgot to embed it here until now. Oops!

I’m going to try to teach myself some new tricks for Part 5, so expect a bit of a wait before that appears.

Script below the jump.

Continue reading

Let’s Study Half-Life 2, Part 2: The Horizon

Part two is up!

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.

Script below the jump.

Continue reading

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!

Continue reading

Let’s Study Tacoma

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.

As always, transcript below the jump.

Continue reading

On Ones (and Zeroes): A Tribute to Hannah Frank

Today, the friends, family, and colleagues of Hannah Frank held a special Chicago memorial for her, hosted at the University of Chicago. I already wrote quite a bit about Hannah in the past two weeks, so for my presentation at this memorial I decided to do something different: a short found-footage celebration of Hannah’s audiovisual interests.

As you might imagine, this compilation video includes things that Hannah wrote about. But it also includes things Hannah shared on social media that she liked. And things Hannah shared on social media that she made. It includes things Hannah and I shared a mutual love of. It includes things Hannah encouraged me to teach and/or write about. And it includes things I encouraged Hannah to teach and/or write about. I’ve arranged these clips to the tune of “Deeper into Movies,” by Hannah’s fellow Hobokeners Yo La Tengo.

Special thanks to Will Carroll, Chris Carloy, Sierra Wilson, Jordan Schonig, and James Rosenow.

If you’d like to explore Hannah’s own output as a video artist and animator, check out her Vimeo page here.

If you’re curious about the sources for all of the visual bits, a full list is below the fold.

Continue reading

A Hodology of Videogames: Post-Socialist Rails

For this entry in my series on “hodological space,” I decided to do something a bit different: a video.

Way back in January, I promised that I would write some further thoughts on 35MM (Sergei Nosgov, 2016). The more I tried to pull my thoughts together, though, it became clear that, as much as I like that game, I was lacking in concrete ideas about it. In place of the concrete, 35MM left me with nebulous impressionsfeelings, and half-formed memories. My quest to craft a container for these impressions led to something that is not quite a video essay. The embedded video here is really more of a piece of meditative, impressionistic experimental machinima than it is an analytical work.

This video encapsulates my fascination with the prevalence of abandoned or poorly-maintained railroads and rail stations in post-apocalyptic games coming out of former Eastern Bloc countries. Sometimes, there is a clear lineage on display here, as when the Ukrainian studio 4A Games adapts the Russian science fiction author Dmitri Glukhovsky’s Metro books into the complementary Metro game series. More diffuse influences envelope these games as well, though. Some go back to the Soviet era. In the video, I pick out Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (USSR, 1979) as a distinct visual reference point. Although the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series developed by Ukrainian team GSC Gameworld hews much closer to the atmosphere of the Strugatsky novel Roadside Picnic on which Stalker is based, I think it’s undeniable that Tarkovsky’s film left a visual mark on post-Soviet apocalyptic fiction. (He was doing “ruin porn” before it was cool.)

As to why, exactly, the decaying rail line has become such a staple of former Eastern Bloc post-apocalyptic fiction … I have no answer. But that’s one of the things you can get away with when choosing this sort of video work over the written word.

Let’s Study The Witness

This past March, at SCMS, I walked out on a paper being delivered by Oscar Moralde on The Witness (Thekla, Inc, 2016). I did so not out of disinterest. (I’ve enjoyed Moralde’s papers in the past.) Nor did I do so out of rudeness. Rather, I did it because of spoilers. Moralde was kind enough to warn ahead of time that his paper would spoil a small portion of the joy of teasing out the behaviors of The Witness’ world, and advised those who hadn’t played it to leave, lest they deny themselves a rich intellectual—and some would even say emotional—experience of personal discovery. And, in my eternal shame, as of March of 2017, I still had not played The Witness. Even though it had been sitting right there in my Steam library for months. (Ashlyn Sparrow and Whitney Pow can attest to the truth of this story.)

Moralde’s paper was a wake-up call to me that I needed to get better about my gaming backlog, if for none other than purely academic reasons. And I think I’ve done a pretty good job of keeping up on things in real-time since that moment. (I played Tacoma, already!) I offer this story, though, not (strictly) as a chance to to advertise my newfound dedication to keeping up with recent releases, but also as a warning. Basically, the heads-up Moralde offered in front of his talk also applies here. The pleasures of The Witness are the pleasures of discovering puzzle mechanics, and you will deny yourself a small portion of those if you watch this new video essay I’ve whipped together.

That said, if you don’t mind spoiling such things, or if you’ve played The Witness already, go ahead and dash right in. This video is considerably shorter and more focused than my previous experiments in the “Let’s Study” format. It focuses on the pedagogical aspects of the game’s puzzle design, in particular its fondness for safe failure. Whether it’s encouraging assumptions about its mechanics that quickly get proved wrong, or setting up perceptual bad habits only to nip them in the bud, Jonathan Blow’s puzzle design in the best portions of The Witness front-load failure, so as to hammer home lessons. I hope you enjoy my short tour through this technique!

As before, a full transcript of my narration is below the fold. (I’d love to eventually add these as subtitles to the YouTube upload for accessibility reasons, but that is beyond my abilities, at the moment.)

Continue reading