Friday, December 30, 2011

One Excellent Textbook about Video Games

I read forty-four books this year, which is not as many as I have read in previous years. I read a lot of articles and blog posts about video gaming, but only two books about it (an indication of the location of all the hip criticism at the moment, I think, though Dan at Digital Ephemera has an impressive list). I've already told  you my thoughts on Extra Lives; this post is about Understanding Video Games: The Essential Introduction.

In short, I loved the book. It was easy to read and elucidated all the things I was confused about (including some a hint that Aarseth's taxonomy of interactive games is impractical, why didn't I think of that?). The game history section focused on the evolution of the form, being aware of the limitations of hardware but without getting caught up in a specs discussion. I also loved the chapter on narrative. The overview of video game "risks" seemed a little overly dichotomized (psychologists' research vs anthropologists', essentially), but it gave a good overview of the state of things (most research from psychologists oversimplifies the variable of "video game").

These guys really did their research! If you're overwhelmed by the amount of serious literature on video games, this book will have you covered for a while, though it does not cover current issues like the rise of the indie game and viral marketing things. It also has a disappointing amount of punctuation and sentence errors. Anyway, I liked this book so much that I wrote the only Amazon review for it (some small part of me is sad when good books like this go unnoticed). Hope you've had a great holiday!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Distributors other than Steam!

I love that Steam exists and that I can buy a game and probably own it forever (even if my hard drive gets wiped and my house burns down). However, lately I've noticed that some games I want to play (like Towns) aren't on Steam yet, and sometimes Steam misses out on non-American games (although if they get popular enough they usually get there in time). Here are three other digital distributors of games that keep coming up, which maybe you didn't already know about?


Desura: The indie little sister of Steam. Also focuses on mods and a developer community.

-Playism: Japanese indie games. Well, many are not from Japan, but some are, including this little gem (ecological god game with charming art). Also, sometimes American games look cooler on Playism (And Yet it Moves takes on an air of foreign bizarreness).

-Good Old Games: They don't have everything, but they probably have one of those Windows '98 games that will never play on your computer again. Plus they are having a 50% off sale (that means Planescape: Torment is $5)!

Did a guest post over at Rampant Games on what indie games can do that bigger companies can't afford to do (usually)!

Update: IndieCity? Those prices are more my speed.

Update 10/30/2015: Desura is becoming unpopular now, and and the Humble Store are the new hip stores to get DRM-free indie titles. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Sky Island is a difficult game that looks like Fez

I was poking around for good Christmas games (so far Sufjan Stevens' game is the only one worth mentioning) and I found Sky Island. Quite honestly, it looks like a prototype or clone of Fez (that one game from Indie Game: The Movie that still hasn't come out yet). Basically, you can only move in 2D space, but you can rotate this space. It is kind of mind-blowingly difficult for me. I think the concept of moving your camera and changing the landscape is cool, but so far I haven't been impressed with the game's teaching me how to navigate space.

I admit, most of the time if I get frustrated with a game I usually put it down. I like the idea of games gradually getting more difficult and teaching me to get better, though I concede that the whole Dark Souls difficulty discussion makes me wish I cared enough to persist through abusive games (oh, excuse me... games with a "Darwinian learning curve"). I think players need to feel some sort of attachment to a game before it throws something really difficult out there, which probably explains the whole boss-battle cycle. Anyway, some games are hard and I just give up.