Wherefore art thou video games
This week's selection of articles from beyond the breadth of GamesRadar goes through some good (Virtual reality is amazing! Communities of game creators are fascinating! Browser-based games are the bomb!) and some bad (Replacing pixels with gummy paint strokes is a bad idea! Earthworm Jim was kind of bad!), but ultimately concludes that Well heck, you'll just have to read on to find out.
By the way, If anyone ever gives you crap about games being a waste of time, send them this way. Not because this little series of articles is the Ultimate Argument for Games as Art, but because any subject that can prompt this many to think and work so hard for it must be significant, at the very least. If that doesn't work, cover your ears and start humming your national anthem.
How to Tell When You Gave Artists Too Much Control Over Design
"Ultimately, what we enjoyed about EWJ were its quirky characters, humor, and animation, which were unmatched at the time. But its because those elements came at such a premium that it pales in comparison to other run n guns and platformers of the era, like Contra or Mega Man. Though Jim and his cohorts are remembered fondly (and with good reason), its not likely to be a game well come back to very often."
Earthworm Jim is one of those games I've started a dozen times but never finished. I seem to suffer some kind of annelid-related amnesia about how non-good it is: all I can remember is the cow catapult and traversing a gigantic intestine to the doleful tones of midi Moonlight Sonata (come to think of it, the intestinal bit was actually in Earthworm Jim 2). Then I start playing, and this piece by Spelunky designer Derek Yu starts making a lot of sense.
Yu observes that Earthworm Jim's design priorities were overshadowed by its artists' zeal. Its designs occupy the opposite side of the platforming realm from Super Mario: no easily decipherable tiles here, just big, beautiful, confusing set pieces--no flow, just frustration. Thankfully, Earthworm Jim is so goofy and idiosyncratic that it's tough to dislike, even as you put it under glass as a specimen of game design gone wrong.
A new wave of Turnerization is tearing up video games artistic legacy
Square Enix's muddy mobile Final Fantasy remakes aren't without precedent in the entertainment industry. Bob Mackey points out in this A.V. Club essay that the precipitating factors and ghastly end result are much the same as cable TV's colorization rush. When a new market calls for lots of stuff fast, where better to go than dip back into the classics? It's a fine idea; exposing the masses to beloved cultural artifacts--whether they star Jimmy Stewart or Locke Cole--is a noble endeavor. Just please leave the colored pencils at home.
Unfortunately, Square Enix elected to tear out Final Fantasy VI's vibrant, chunky pixels and replace them with creamy, pastel crud. The sprites have ten times as much room for detail but a tenth of the personality, looking like nearly identical figurines. Who is this for? Is anyone willing to sit through It's a Wonderful Life not going to enjoy the original color scheme, even if it's in black and white? Is anyone willing to play through a Final Fantasy game on a phone or tablet not going to enjoy the original pixel art, even if it means black bars on the sides of the screen?
VR and Steam days
"There really was a sense of presence with the tech that I didnt think was possible (or at least for decades). Its possible my brain was just more easily tricked than others (and also maybe the extreme hang over and lack of sleep also added to this), but looking back my memories of it are like I was actually there and not just viewing pixels on a screen. It was better than real life people will get lost in this and not want to leave. Nothing else gives the same escapism I can imagine becoming completely lost in games for an entire day (something I in no way do currently)."
Indie developer Lee Vermeulen left Steam Dev Days a little less confident in his perception of the world. After narrowly making his way into Valve's virtual reality prototype room, he found himself in another place. That's been claimed of nearly every VR device to boom and bust in the last 20 years, but his awe-struck description of presence, something he hadn't felt with the Oculus Rift developer kit or any gadget before it, is uncanny.
What comes after is downright unnerving: after the demo concluded, Vermeulen disassociated from his surroundings. Logically, he knew the demo was over and the headset was off, but he couldn't shake the residual feeling that he was still in the Matrix virtual world without some help from Jack Daniels. Virtual reality isn't just a cool new way to play first-person shooters, it's a potentially perception-distorting experience, capable of changing not just the way we play but the way we experience the world. Heavy, man.
Embed with London
"I ask George if hed quit work on Mutazione to work for a big studio. 'Id rather not work in games than get paid badly and also work really hard on stuff that I dont own,' he says. His experience working in programming outside of games has hugely affected how he thinks about work inside the games industry. 'Getting paid less than I would working outside of games doing a similar thing' is not something he says hes keen on."
Give it a minute. Cara Ellison's first piece of self-described embedded games journalism isn't written like a preview, or a profile, or a slideshow, and it isn't actually about any games in particular. It's about the people who make them, and the supportive little enclave that the indie developers of London have formed. If Terry Cavanaugh of Super Hexagon and Ed Key of Proteus were apes, for example, Ellison spent a week as their Jane Goodall.
These passionate people find the time for both prolific creation and to put on what sound like some killer parties, whereas my girlfriend had to start playing that damn commercial with the person-sized hamsters exercising to get me out of bed Friday morning. It puts things in context. I look forward to reading all about Ellison's future journeys and I hope she can find some folks to embed with who don't own a cat (allergies are rough).
The Candy Jam
You may have heard that the creators of Candy Crush Saga are attempting to trademark the words "candy" and "saga" for use in games and several other markets. You may be aware that some people are simultaneously upset about this and snarky as all get out. You may be able to guess the general thrust of this game jam.
Night Rider Turbo
Have you ever tried operating a car barreling down a highway with only one hand--no feet involved? Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have superhuman strength? Sos, best known as the creator of exploding adventure game McPixel, delivers bewildering fun and a stern message about the dangers of steroid abuse in Night Rider Turbo.
No time like the present
About that ultimate conclusion: it turns out there's never been a better time to be into video games. Sorry, past you! You'll just have to wait your turn--wait, how are you reading this, anyway? If you already have your time machine warmed up, could you look around for some cool gaming articles from the far future and share them in the comments? You're the best.