Jason recently played through LEGO Batman 2: DC Superheroes, and found himself quite impressed at not just its overall quality but its surprising and subtle characterization of Superman. Starting with a deeper examination of this game, Jason and Matt discuss adaptations of comic books into games and film, and the ways that some games can uniquely express character concepts not just through story but through the mechanics and language of gameplay.
Stuff mentioned in this episode:
- Lego Batman 2: the best interactive essay on Superman, Jason’s blog post about that game
- The scene from Man of Steel that Matt describes
- The intro roll to the 1970 TV Series UFO
- A profile of Astro City's character “Samaritan”
- How Zelda Became Uninteresting, where Matt writes that the Legend of Zelda game series lost its way after Wind Waker
Matt and Jason return after a long break intending to talk top-ten lists. Instead, beginning with a digression about the Interactive Fiction Competition, they discuss the changing face of game development away from monotonous triple-A dominance and towards something more inclusive to other voices and styles.
But: no revolution passes bloodlessly.
Stuff mentioned in this episode:
- The Interactive Fiction Competition
- howling dogs placed 11th in the Comp in 2012 (I was almost right…)
- The incident at the 2013 IGF where Richard Hofmeier subverted his own game, Cart Life, for the sake of another
- Porpentine’s essay Creation under Capitalism and the Twine Revolution
- Ian Bogost’s essay Perpetual Adolescence, a critique of Gone Home
- Bioshoot Infinite +1, the likely origin of the Bioshock descriptor “shlooter”, used by Jason in this episode
- Now is the Best Time, Leigh Alexander’s critique of Bioshock Infinite
Matt and Jason talk about state of games journalism, and the challenge that those who write about videogames face when addressing a mainstream audience.
Stuff mentioned in this episode:
- BioShock Infinite: an intelligent, violent videogame?, a critique by Daniel Golding for the Australian Broadcasting Company’s website.
- Betteridge’s law of headlines, according to Wikipedia.
- Jason’s 2010 essay The Silver Age, and Kotaku’s headline-altered reprint of it
- Seth Schiesel’s New York Times review of Red Dead Redemption
- Personal Video Games, a radio interview by On the Media's Brooke Gladstone of Anna Anthropy, Sebastian Janisz and Michael Molinari about some of their work.
After Jason expresses disenchantment with the current glut of zombie games, Matt sits him down for some surprising education about the subtler side of the zombie’s role in western culture.
We explore how two games from 2012, The Walking Dead and ZombiU, find rare success at reaching beneath the obvious surface trappings of the “zombie story”, grasping something closer to what George Romero aimed at with 1968’s Night of the Living Dead. We also look at the largely accidental excellence of the original Resident Evil game during the 1990s, and speculate on ways that the zombie can play a more relevant (and disturbing) role in future games other than as a generic target for further first-person shootings.
- Leigh Alexander on The Walking Dead
- Sweet Home, the 1989 Famicom predecessor of Resident Evil
- REC, the 2007 movie that Matt sees as the actual Resident Evil film adaptation
- Mitch Horowitz writes about his fatigue with post-apocalyptic fantasies
- Kyle Bishop’s The Sub-subaltern Monster, examining the zombie as a reaction to colonialism
- Zombies are Us and Horror Video Games, both of which contain chapters by Matt about Our Friend the Zombie
- Clara Fernandez-Vara on “Choice vs. Puzzles” in The Walking Dead and other games
- Choice of Zombies, a CYOA game by Heather Albano and Richard Jackson
- Dan Fabulich on the “stacked bush” structure employed by Choice of Games and other longer-form interactive narratives
Play of the Light returns with a discussion on the fundamental differences between solitaire and multiplayer video games, and interesting recent developments in the multiplayer space.
Topics include Jason’s history with MUDs and current obsession with Hero Academy, how Matt’s dislike of Settlers of Catan led to lost job opportunities, that time we played Johann Sebastian Joust on the subway, what Glitch Tank teaches us about how machines play games, and more.
- Hero Academy homepage
- Homo Ludens
- MUDs (Wikipedia)
- Gitch Tank
- Jason’s essay on “cocktail”-style arcade games
- Small World for iPad
- Funspot Arcade
- Johann Sebastian Joust homepage
- Matt and others play J.S. Joust in the Boston subway after PAX East 2012
- Part two of the above J.S. Joust game
- The Blues Brothers scene Matt quotes
- Mazes & Monsters, a film starring Tom Hanks
- James Dobson
- Table of red dragon titles by age in Dungeons and Dragons
- Brawl homepage
Play of the Light #4 - Until the Main Character Mentions George Clooney
Jason and Matt punted Deadly Premonition during the previous episode’s discussion, but do they catch it again in this one, and proceed to run with it for a good hour and a half.
Deadly Premonition was famously panned by reviewers upon its 2010 release, but managed to become a true sleeper hit over the ensuing months. Now widely considered a critical success, this bizarre but endearing game plays like a (wholly unauthorized) videogame adaptation of the American TV series Twin Peaks, albeit one that had a teleporter accident with Resident Evil 4.
In this episode of Play of the Light, the hosts examine how this game handles the issues of cross-medium adaptation, as well as the unique approaches it brings to the genre conventions of both detective stories and horror.
Please be aware that this episode contains significant spoilers regarding Deadly Premonition’s storyline.
Play of the Light #3 - Thirties Clothes but Seventies Hair
Many long-form single-player videogames must resolve the inherent tension that exists between storytelling and gameplay. Some games excel at elegantly expressing both story and play in a single set of rules; others struggle with it. Mass Effect represents an interesting (and highly visible) failure in this regard, putting two entirely different and rather contradictory rulesets in play at once, one for exploring the game’s rich narrative space but another to handle the game’s focus on ground combat.
In this episode, after Jason opens with a story about watching a family member discover this internal conflict with unfortunate results, the hosts explore how games of various sizes and scopes — from plucky indie titles to Bioware-funded blockbusters — meet this challenge, and speculate on what current trends in these strategies might say about the future of the artform.
Matt’s sound is a once again a bit droppy. Sorry about that. (I know why, and it shouldn’t be a problem after this episode.)
Play of the Light #2 - In My Head, In My Mouth, In My Mind
Dark Souls made quite an impression on the console-gameplay landscape in 2011, extending and deepening the reputation of its predecessor, Demon’s Souls, as a maddeningly difficult dungeon crawl of interest only to videogame experts. Matt challenges this perspective with his own take that the two games serve as a masterfully subtle critique of game-culture machismo, while Jason describes how he found Dark Souls' approach ultimately self-defeating.
(Please note that our discussion contains moderate spoilers for both Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls.)
Matt’s sound is a bit droppy due to Skype not smiling upon us that day. My apologies.
- Jason’s blog post about the Portcullis Incident
- Jason’s blog post about the missing pause button, and resulting domestic unease
- Matt’s written reflections on completing Dark Souls
- Matt not realizing that Jason is not joking
Play of the Light #1 - A Faceful of Moral Grayness
Since its first exposure to the harsh post-apocalyptic sun of the 1990s, the Fallout series has evolved and adapted to changes in both game-playing technology and in American politics. We discuss these games’ changing attitudes over time, with particular focus on the differences between Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas.
(Please note that our discussion contains significant spoilers for nearly every game in the Fallout series.)