Pausing in Blogging

Hello everyone.

I’m writing this post to let readers of the blog know that I’m taking a little break from writing here. It isn’t that I’m stopping for good or anything, but that I’m right in the middle of deep thesis writing, which means that I’m spending hours every day reading and researching so I can add a few words to a document. I’ve been struggling with trying to keep up here as well as there, but I just don’t think that I can manage both things at once.

That said, I have a hard deadline for the thesis: March 23. After that, things will return to normal here. Games, essays, and thoughts in general have been stacking up over here, and I can’t wait to get back to writing every day and sharing that stuff with all of you. If this blog post seems super personal, well, it is. I’ve been writing every week day for two years, and I know for a fact that there’s a group of people who come here every day to read what I write, which is a profoundly humbling experience. I really appreciate all of you.

Here’s a little sample of what I am writing on this week:

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Support Critical Distance on Patreon

Kris Ligman has recently put up a Patreon page for Critical Distance, and suggest you support it if you like the world of videogame criticism.

Kris does an immense amount of work on Critical Distance, and I’m glad that there’s a way to assure that they are properly compensated for the amount of work that is required every single week on the site. As you may know, I am on the “staff” of CD in the sense that I, every now and again, pitch in to do the weekly roundup. It is always difficult and time consuming, and I literally cannot imagine doing that every single week, and I definitely couldn’t imagine doing it for free. Kris has been doing it for years now, and the opportunity to pay for that labor is one that we should all be taking advantage of.

Critical Distance is the contemporary heart of online games criticism. Kris is the critical valve that keeps that heart beating.

 

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Review of South Park: The Stick of Truth at Paste

You can read my review of South Park: The Stick of Truth over at Paste today.

I came away pretty ambivalent about the game itself, but in awe of what Obsidian did with the material. So much of the gameplay elements are wonderful and unique, and I would love to see them developed and iterated upon divorced from the South Park world.

Also this:

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Game Criticism Time Machine: Seanbeanland on WoW

Game Criticism Time Machine is a weekly series where I find game criticism from more than a year ago, post an excerpt, and encourage you to read the piece.

As far as RPG quests go, this was about as stereotypical as you could get. Bring back seven feathers and seven of something else from the creatures wandering the nearby plain. I don’t remember what they were called, but it doesn’t really matter. The first thing I think is “Why seven?” Is that a special number? Why not ten? Or fifteen? It seemed somewhat arbitrary. So I go forth from the village, ready to pillage the countryside. I encounter my first creature and attack. My first encounter with combat in the game was less than satisfying. The animations were relatively simple, and there was no sense of weight or impact when you hit your foe. It seemed to be somewhat turn based since I would attack, then the creature, then me again, and so on. He fell beneath the blows of my hammer nonetheless and I searched its corpse for the items I needed. Yay, a feather! But not the other item I needed (I can’t remember what else I was supposed to find). But I did get a couple cracked eggs! So I needed to kill more than just seven. I understood right away that this was a grind. Keep killing hapless monsters until I get what I need and, hopefully, level up in the process.

Eventually I killed enough creatures to get what I needed and headed back to the village. The guy was pleased and let me choose a piece of armor for myself. It seemed like a pretty good upgrade, and he had another quest for me. Kill ten cougars and bring back their furs! Ugh. Ok. So I went and did that. At one point my health was somewhat low, and a person with a higher level druid character wandered by and healed me. I thought that was nice of him. He had nothing to gain by it as far as I knew. I brought back the required number of furs and got another piece of armor. I was given a new quest to go find a missing woman who had wandered from the village.

- “An Hour With World of Warcraft

This is a pretty run of the mill criticism of World of Warcraft, but the shocking part is that this critique written in 2008 lands just as hard today as it did six years ago. It is amazing to me that WoW hasn’t changed in any real way since then.

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“Like a sack with an animal trapped inside”: on the quizzle

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I just finished Jonathan Fast’s The Secrets of Synchronicity, and while the book on the whole isn’t so great, there’s a section later in the book that has to do with quizzles.

“Quizzles? What’s a quizzle?”

“It’s a lump of rock,” Ar-Nett explained, “that thinks it’s an animal. They wander between the stars looking for energy, any kind of energy at all. Nuclear fuel, pulsar radiation, even prana – human energy. That’s a special delicacy. Strange kind of creature. Some scientists say it’s them unfold the warproutes, but nobody’s proved it. ” [114]

I think the animated inanimate matter of the quizzle being a lump of rock is super interesting, but what I think is really brilliant is the bit about the warproute. Earlier in the novel, we learn that warproutes, which are the interstellar routes that ships travel in the book’s universe, can appear and disappear at random. They are purely contingent, existing for a finite amount of time before disintegrating into nothing and leaving whole corners of the galaxy (universe? the book is unclear) as abandoned backwater planets.

The idea that these crucial pathways could be crafted by these nonhuman, semi-living beings is just wonderful characterization of how the world exists already. Human lives are built on layers and layers of nonhuman sediment, whether that is literal in the case of things that live on and in the earth, or symbolically in the case of animals on which we have built the category of “the human.”

Even more amazing is the following quotation in which we actually see a quizzle, and the nonhuman is rendered in a kind of “greatest hits” of inhuman things — an anus, a molten core, an animal trapped in a bloated bag. Its body is a confrontation with everything we need to disavow in order to assert human mastery and uniqueness in the universe.

I didn’t want to take my eyes off my work, but something in Alan’s voice made me. I looked along the cable I was trying to cut, toward the end of it, which vanished into darkness. And out of the darkness I saw something creeping, some crude shapeless thing of black which swelled and shrank rhythmically as though respirating. And along the gray cable it crept toward us, slowly, silently, with what seemed like a conscious purposefulness.

“I think,” I said, “it’s a quizzle.”

I could see it better now, smooth and black as pitch, slowly twisting and jerking like a sack with an animal trapped inside. I went back to work on the cable, but it had to take another ten minutes, and the quizzle was gaining speed. Fifteen feet away now and a hole opening in it, a sphincter mouth, the light from the blazing furnace inside turning everything scarlet, and Alan screaming, “It’s coming to drink my life force, don’t let it get me, Stefin, kill me please, kill me with the laser…” [117]

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Kilmercast Episode 3 and a New Website!

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First thing is that Kilmercast has a new home on its own website!

Second this is that we have a new episode on the Val Kilmer cornerstone film Top Gun. This is our best episode yet, and I think we’ve really started to hit our stride. Laurel has a new microphone and we’ve added some different segments to the show.

Third is that you can now subscribe to the show on iTunes! Please subscribe to it and rate it so that we can become Very Famous[TM]

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Game Criticism Time Machine: Andrew S on Videogame Demos

In the anticipation of a game that is sometimes years away, arguments will erupt about its quality, often hinging on such damning empirical evidence like screenshots and whether they were faked or not. Massive armies of the overstimulated who have nothing better to do will swarm websites like Gamestop and NeoGAF and Amazon leaving comments about a game that they haven’t played, and likely isn’t even finished yet. Meanwhile, our favorite video game news outlets will be given their monthly ration of screenshots to post, and the whole process begins again. This is how the machine works. And video game culture at large not only accepts it, they love it.

Back in the early days of PC Gaming, demos were essential for getting the word out about a game. This is how the Shareware scene started. Publishers would release the first mission or chapter of a game for free, and you would have to pay to play the rest of it. These chapters were often made up of sub-missions, and provided enough content to be classified as a game in itself. For a while, this was enough to support a fledgling game development community and allowed it to compete with the big studios and their boxed games available on store shelves.

- Andrew S., “The Video Game Demo

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