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Posts Tagged ‘computer games’

A while back I wrote an article about how The Secret of Kells told a medieval Irish story through the idiom of medieval Irish artwork, and how this acts as much more than an aesthetic exercise.Unfortunately, we haven’t seen much of that sort of historicized film-making in animation since then. Cartoon Saloon’s follow-ups Song of the Sea and The Breadwinner do not reconstruct their worlds in this way; the only other example I can think of in the years since is Studio Ghibli’s The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. Kaguya is in many ways even more impressive – Isao Takahata putting in a stupid amount of work to give the film the character of a traditional Japanese brushwork brought to life. And, see, I get it: approaching historical and cultural material this way requires a whole lot of careful attention to detail, especially because you’re tapping into a visual language that by necessity you need to teach your audience as you go along since its outside their lived experience. It is not easy to pull off and I’m sure there are examples I haven’t seen because they never gained the attention that would ensure I’d hear about them, or failed to connect to their source material.

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So little of 2017 left, but just enough time to post our year in review! We discuss media we enjoyed this year, whether it was objectively good or not, including the University of Alberta murder-mystery-but-not-really-a-murder-mystery The Next Margaret, Haruki Murakami’s slow melancholy, Nausicaä  of the Valley of the Wind (again!), Roger Zelazny’s fiction, and more.

Download the Podcast (archive.org page)

Marie’s blog

Cory’s blog

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Video games are often less than the sum of their parts. For me, all the time and effort that goes into crafting individual elements is often impressive but never seems to come together as a cohesive whole. However, sometimes one or two well-executed individual elements in a game can still make the whole thing worth playing.

Dishonored (2012) hardly counts as recent, but it’s the last title I played out of the modern game development era. While I enjoyed it as a dip back into the gameplay model from some of my favourite games, Thief and Thief II, the play experience hasn’t overcome my general antipathy towards AAA games. I could immerse myself in the stealthy gameplay but the narrative as a whole wasn’t as deep or meaningful as I’d hoped. Much has been made of the moral choices and framework in the game, but the nonlethal options that led to the “good ending” sometimes seemed worse than just plain killing the target. Though I do appreciate a game where you play an assassin but can complete the game without murdering anyone.

Where Dishonored (still) excels is in the material outside its narrative and gameplay choices—the meticulous worldbuilding and devotion to an atmosphere of industrial dread. Dunwall is well-realized through every detail: architecture, handbills, the class and social structure, the material culture of its whale-oil based technology. Background characters shine when you overhear their brief snippets of conversation. The plague of rats and infected citizens progresses as you play and the city itself transforms in subtle ways as you revisit the districts. I found myself standing on rooftops just appreciating the artistry of Dunwall as the sun sets over labyrinthine streets and tumbled-down ruins of urban decay. There’s a sublime beauty to this setting built around the exploitation of Lovecraftian whales despite the inhabitants having character designs that are often deliberately grotesque. (more…)

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If you haven’t noticed, I have a soft spot for DOS-era gaming. I’m supposed to be of the video game generation, but the only console I ever owned was an NES and I was never very good at playing it. My real interest in computer games didn’t come until high school, where I wasted a huge amount of time playing old DOS games that were largely older than I was (more about that here). I wish I could say that I had some sort of affinity with the early computer game scene and was drawn to the elegance and beauty of making a playable system with as few kilobytes as possible, but that would be a filthy lie. The real reason was because there was a website called Home of the Underdogs that hosted abandonware games for free, and the older games fit on a floppy disk so I could download them at school and then take them home and install on my own computer. (more…)

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I spent more time as a teenager than I’d care to admit tracking down DOS games based on Tolkien’s work (many released before I was born), including Mike Singleton’s attractive-looking-but-not-particularly-good War in Middle Earth (1988). The failure of that game seems odd now, since a couple of years earlier the same guy put together perhaps the best “Tolkien with the serial numbers filed off” game of all time, the justly famous Lords of Midnight.

I decided to give Lords of Midnight a whirl after reading an article about its creation on The Digital Antiquarian. The original game came out in 1984 for the Sinclair Spectrum and ran on a mere 48 K from a cassette tape. It was revolutionary for the time, letting you take first-person control of multiple characters and walk them around a dynamically shifting fantasy landscape trapped in a long winter A Song of Ice and Fire-style. Though I have to express my scepticism over how people who write about old software characterize computer graphics in the 80s as looking impressive at the time. I’m pretty sure people who regularly saw photographs and paintings could see the shortcomings of pixel art like this:

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SPAG – The Interactive Fiction Magazine is back, putting out its 62nd issue at the beginning of this month after a seriously long hiatus. I assumed it died with issue 60 in 2011, which is why I only became aware of its resurrection today (the one-issue reappearance in 2013 notwithstanding). I loved reading this online magazine back in its heyday, and that love is rooted in a fascination with the mechanics of writing text-adventures that followed me out of high school.

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It’s revealing that while I own a copy of Crusader Kings II (Paradox Entertainment), I barely ever play it, instead favouring 1991’s Medieval Lords: Soldier Kings of Europe (SSI). This isn’t knocking Crusader Kings II, which deserves all the praise it gets; I just have a fondness for older games from the DOS era that goes back to when I was a teenager (full story here). I’m also a great fan of turn-based strategy games with historical settings. I bring up Crusader Kings II because Medieval Lords covers much the same territory–you play as an advisor to a dynasty of your choosing and guide the various kingdoms of medieval Europe and the Middle East as kings, caliphs and sultans fight and die, nations rise and fall, and plague wipes out vast swathes of the population. Since the advisors have names and pass from heir to heir, and if you select the right options you can play against various AI-controlled advisors (or other people if they’re into crowding around the computer), I like to think of them as immortal vampires vying with each other for supremacy. A medieval secret vampire vizier cabal, if you will.

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