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Power Hour Review: Grim Fandango Remastered (PS Vita, PS4, and PC)

So, it’s no secret that Grim Fandango that is one of my favorite games ever. For years I would go back and replay sections of the game every year on the Day of the Dead. It was kind of a ritual. So when the announcement came that Double Fine was going to be doing a remastered version of the game I was ecstatic. New graphics, full orchestral score, better game controls, all of the things that I thought could only make the game more awesome. I should also admit that it is impossible for me to just talk about the first hour of the game because I have played it so many times (and now on three different platforms), so I will focus on the first narrative thread of the game itself.

One of the first things that I should mention about this game is that while the controls of the game itself are greatly improved (the original was sometimes maddening) it is still very much an old school point and click adventure game. Where you can go, what you can do, and who you can talk to is still limited by what events you have triggered so far and what items you are holding in your inventory. But as someone who spent a whole lot of hours with this genre of games in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I am more than ok with that and I have found that lots of younger folks that are playing the game are as well. I have played Grim Fandango Remastered on PC, PS4 (with Pea), and on the Vita. There doesn’t seem to be much difference in the console versions, but I find the iconography used to interact with the world in the PC version unnecessarily confusing, but this may be because I am so used to the original PC controls. I have often thought that this game would be extremely well suited for play on the Vita and I have to admit that I was absolutely right. The Vita version in definitely my favorite because of portability and the ease of navigation (it is also Cross-Buy and Cross-Play with the PS4 version).  Read more »

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All harassment is not created equal: why we need to pay attention to rampant online sexism

A recent post on the Feminist Frequency tumblr titled “One Week of Harassment on Twitter” detailed just that — a week’s worth of tweets directed at Feminist Frequency, at Anita Sarkeesian, and at feminists in general, especially those associated in any way with gaming critique. Some are wildly ridiculous, almost funny, like this one, that promised to hack all Sarkeesian’s accounts her and “put gay porn everywhere” (the horror). Others are rife with threats of death and rape, to no one one’s surprise; the Feminist Frequency feed is full of threats on the regular. But there are common themes, despite the diversity of approaches: Sarkeesian is a liar, a conartist, feminists are trying to ruin gaming, and of particular interest to me, the notion that everyone gets threatened in gaming.

Sarkeesian addressed this herself on January 27, the day after the tracked week of harassment ended, saying such a statement is not a legitimate criticism. I’ll even take it a step further: it doesn’t matter whether or not threats and harassment are a part of gaming culture, particular in online gaming culture. What happens to women is different, and is much more serious. Read more »

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Power Hour Review: Lumino City

Lumino City is a point and click adventure from State of Play, which combines  digital design with physical design.  The developers of Lumino City physically built the game world out of paper and tiny lights, and then created a video game out of this little paper city. And, the results are beautiful. I found the whole game to be a work of art. As an added bonus for me, I got to play the game on my retina screen, something that doesn’t happen often because most games either aren’t on the Mac or don’t work well on the Mac. Lumino City looks so crisp on the retina screen, but I bet it’ll look great on most screens.

The build process took 3 years and looks incredibly detailed. I love the idea of blending the physical and the digital. As a LEGO fan, I can really appreciate the intricate design. You can see a bit of the process here. I couldn’t help but think about how cool it would be if someone did this with a LEGO game. I imagine it would take forever, even with bricks, but after I played Lumino City for awhile, I switched to LEGO Batman 3, and while, that looks good too, the idea of blending the physical and the digital seems like such an obvious idea for LEGO. Maybe someone more creative than me will get that started.

The game picks up where their previous game Lume left off. I haven’t played Lume, but from what I understand, was also built using physical materials. As far as game play goes, Lumino City is pretty much a standard point and click game, but the development of the game was what drew me in originally. The premise of the game involves a young girl who is looking for her missing grandfather. Like most point and click games, she interacts with other characters and solves puzzles along the way. I did find the puzzles to be all over the place difficulty wise: some seemed way too easy, while others left me scratching my head with no idea where to even begin. She does have a handbook to help solve puzzles (although it’s also really long), so I haven’t gotten stuck yet. So far I have found the game, mostly, easy to move through. The narrative seems interesting so far, and the dialogue is just so well done and humorous. The developers also did an excellent job with the soundtrack. I found it fit perfectly with the environment and mood of the game. My favorite part of the whole game though (besides the fantastic physical design) is the way the girl blinks at me when she is waiting for me to make a decision. For some reason, I just thought that was the cutest thing.

If you are into narrative and point and click games, I would definitely recommend Lumino City. If you aren’t that into narrative or point and click games, you might want to pick it up anyway and enjoy the well-done aesthetics.

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Up Around the Bend

I had an extended conversation recently with a student interesting in pursuing game design beyond our undergraduate program at my college. We spoke about the types of things you would expect for any student considering grad school- what types of things to look for in a program, how to begin preparing sample work, who to ask for recommendations, which courses to look at in the fall to help her succeed. We also spoke quite a bit about a subject I don’t cover as much with my English students (though, perhaps I should): the culture of the industry and how to handle it. Read more »

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Minecraft as carrot: engagement, gaming and the acquisition of transferable skills

Way back in early 2012, I bought my son a little mouse for his fourth birthday. He had played a few very simple computer games at preschool and at the library, and of course he loved the Xbox 360 and his iPad, but he hadn’t shown any real interest in our computers. The computers at the library had kid-sized peripherals, so I thought the gift of the mouse might be the key that would unlock his interest in the computer.

It wasn’t. He never used it.

Sure, we hooked it up a few times, and tried some simple games and apps, but we just couldn’t hold his interest; computer attempts were undertaken very much under duress, so I stopped trying and instead just let him know the little mouse was available if he wanted it. This hands-off approach has helped with many other things — I don’t force him to eat well, but simply encourage; same with reading and exercise and any number of things, and this has resulted in a healthy eater and a good reader with fantastic penmanship for his age. (Reading was hard, though; imagine, the English teacher mom with a kid who only recently discovered reading was fun. Horror.) Now, at last, it’s worked for the computer… because he wants to make his own Minecraft videos. And so, over the past few days, my husband has been teaching kiddo how to manipulate the mouse, how to use the keyboard, and where to find all the cool stuff he didn’t have in the Xbox version. Read more »

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Error 404…Your Gamer Card is Invalid

A few weeks ago I made the mistake (as I often do) of getting into a debate about feminism on Facebook. I’m not sure why I do this. By now, I surely should have learned. But when it starts, I’m like a moth drawn to flame. I just can’t stay away.

Somehow, during the course of the conversation, things shifted from feminism in general to feminist gamers—specifically #gamergate.

 “Look at Gamergate. A bunch of girls refused to believe that men and women think differently. They wanted to partake in the predominantly male community and claimed that they felt dismissed because of misogyny.

What happened? They joined in on the “fun” and freaked out when male gamers started treating them with the same competitive condescension that guys typically found to be hilarious.”

This, of course, wasn’t particularly surprising. For anyone who followed the craziness of #gamergate, this was a pretty common argument. The fuss was just a bunch of non-gamers who shoved their way into the boys-only club and then got offended when it wasn’t dressed up in pink with pretty ribbons and unicorns. This was….well…not fine, exactly, but expected. I was prepared.

I pulled up my research, my bookmarks, and my personal experience, armed with statistics that proved that women weren’t a small fraction of the gaming population, and they weren’t all new gamers. This wasn’t a “sudden trend.” We’ve been here for a good long while, and I had proof.

….Except that proof didn’t matter. Read more »

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Writing Code Through Gameplay; Learning While We Play

For years we have been talking about learning to write code through game play with things like Gamestar Mechanic and Double Fine’s Hack and Slash (which requires you to change the code of the game’s assets in order to win), but the recent attention that folks like YouTuber SethBling has gotten for writing code with his gameplay is even more interesting. In the following video Seth walks you through how he uses the game itself (and the placement of certain items in game in order to write to the RAM of the game) and trigger a game ending (or “winning”) glitch called the “Credits Warp” that causes you to warp directly to the end credits.

I find this kind of speedrun even more fascinating than the traditional speedrun that usually relies on a series of exploits to make it to the end of a game with record breaking speed. A great example of this is Cosmo’s Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker speedrun that uses a bomb glitch (aka zombie hover) to hover through a dungeon quickly and shave a ton of time off of the final speedrun time.  Read more »

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Episode 93: We’ve Got Nothing But Time: On Finding Time to Play Games for Fun and Research

Episode 93: We’ve Got Nothing But Time: On Finding Time to Play Games for Fun and Research (“Save As” to download or head over to iTunes to subscribe)

The episode where we talk about finding time to play games as gamers, researchers, and parents. We are joined this week by guest and NYMG community member, Patrick Love.

Spoiler Alert

When Can We Cancel a Spoiler Alert?

Last year after I finished playing Among the Sleep, I really wanted to discuss the game with someone. The game was awesome and scary and disturbing. I didn’t know how, exactly, I felt about the game and, in particular, the ending, but I craved a conversation about it. At the time, though, I didn’t know anyone else who had played the game, so I was stuck with reading other players’ opinions on the Internet. I knew the game would stick with me, and I always planned to write a follow up post discussing the game in more detail. But, it never seems enough time has gone by. The game released in May 2014, but I still feel it’s too soon to spoil it. I started thinking about Among the Sleep again after last week’s podcast when I named it as my favorite game of the year, but I still felt I couldn’t talk in detail about it. I started wondering how long is long enough to wait before we talk about spoilers?

I know some people feel we should be free to talk about spoilers immediately, and I see discussions of this nature on Facebook all the time. And, I have friends who say spoilers don’t bother them; that knowing the ending won’t ruin their enjoyment. I think I fall at the other end of that spectrum: I never want spoilers. To that end, I’m pretty much fine with never talking about games I love in great detail with those who haven’t played them. I know there are ways around all this. We can write or talk about the spoilers, as long as we have the disclaimer SPOILER ALERT! But, the Internet can make it difficult at best to completely avoid spoilers. And, then there are certain friends who will keep talking, giving everything about the game (movie, tv show, novel, etc.) away even after they have been asked not to spoil it. I can sort of get that too: it’s not that they are necessarily trying to ruin it for others, it’s often just that they are that excited about the game, movie, tv show, or novel, etc.  Read more »

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Playing Favorites: Why do we love certain Game Franchises?

Just about every gamer has it: that one series that they love through thick and thin, come hell, high water, or cell-shading. The reasons for loving any series are vast, and range from nostalgia to narrative, from characters to adventures, and just about everything in between. Indeed, thinking about your favorite series and why you love it probably says a lot more about you than it does about the series itself. Read more »