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Title: Games Are Art, Again
Posted: June 09, 2006 (01:46 AM)
I suppose I take the other side of video games. I see video games as art. No second guessing. Like fashion, games are a functional art. You can be as artistic all you want, but video games - like clothes - need to function. It needs to work. Now, you can create a video game that exists just for function but that would be bland, right? Bland art, that is. All acts of creation is a work of art, even if it's bland or poorly executed. So that's that. Games are art.
Now let's continue to whether games are more than just bland art. Without expression. The argument is that games 1) derive their art from other mediums and so are not entirely art in themselves - a collage of art fragments - and 2) that games are interactive and player-centered, not artist-centered. But interactivity is the key to why video games are an artform. It is what makes the video game medium unique and what threads those art fragments together. We could say that movies are also fragments of other artforms: music, sound, pictographs, and written dialogue. It is that movies thread them together through moving still images that turns it into a new art. Here, video games add the element of interactivity and programming (and game design, mind you) to turn movies into another new artform.
As for video games being player-centered, that would be denying the artist that created the game in the first place. No one would deny that game designers are artists - they design rule sets and mechanics that cause their desired aesthetics with a twist: art that sells. (Sorry but artists that don't sell their work aren't artists for very long...) But then one can say that the difference between games and other artforms is that you can create music for yourself or a motion picture for yourself, serving the purpose of self-expression. What is hardly mentioned, however, is that experimental game designers create video games meant entirely for themselves as well - games that no one else will ever experience. So games can be artist-centered - it's just not an artform readily accessible to those outside of the craft.
Title: Finally back.
Posted: June 06, 2006 (03:29 PM)
So what have I been doing while not having computer access for about 10 days?
A review of Rez, of course. That and entering a four-day haze of re-playing Final Fantasy IX (and mumbling my way though a review).
Anyway, I saw my scores for the two competitions I entered and hey, nothing wrong with it. I deserved what I got. Hopefully, my next chapter in the Zelda fanfic has, you know, something called clarity? :)
Title: Wrote a review. Gasp!
Posted: May 19, 2006 (09:04 AM)
I was actually grappling with Bombastic for a few days. I found it engaging for a while, but that was it. Anyway, the review should find its way sometime on the board. Until then, I have decided not to critique reviews randomly because I discovered that it's really quite nervy. So instead, I will be HG mailing you guys if you want a critique or you can mail me with a request. I'm free for most of the summer so I'll have time to edit and review much more prominently here. I desire to be a copy editor and a reviewer, so I need to get the creds, right?
Title: You Cheated
Posted: May 17, 2006 (03:53 AM)
pinned behind her breasts, to her
wrestle with the comforter.
Wired hair guards her lips.
Bent legs throw your eyes
over her rose-thorn curves
a dead skin cell -
cutting your tender fingertips
like fresh dandelion seeds -
rotting in a bog of satin
between your jawline and her heart.
Title: Impressions - Sony E3 Press Conference
Posted: May 08, 2006 (08:08 PM)
From everything that was shown (from the eye candy that was Final Fantasy XIII, Metal Gear Solid 4, Gran Turismo, and most everything else), I thought the most impressive event was the Playstation 3 controller. If not to balance the field with Nintendo's own controller, the six-degree-of-movement controller should be an intuitive user interface - though, besides controlling airplanes, I'm not sure how applicable this will be (outside the scope that the Revolution's - sorry, Wii's - controller has) but we will just have to see. I also hope that this feature is optional, at least in-game, because I surmise that it would be draining on the hands, wrist, and arms to have to continually swing the controller around. Last, the Playstation 3 will be arriving in full blast for a cost of $499 US (20 GB) or $599 US (60 GB) on November 17. Why do we have to wait so long? *Flings both arms into the sky*
Title: Advanced Writing Guide
Posted: May 05, 2006 (07:04 AM)
You will get the most out of this guide if your writing is at the point where you can make what's right even more right. But don't let that stop you. Everyone can grab something here (and I continually read it over to remind myself of effective writing techniques):
Adapted with excerpts from "On Writing Well" by William Zinsser (hint, hint, buy this book):
To say why you think a game is good or bad, in words that don't sound banal and boring, is one of the hardest chores in reviewing.
Hold the reader's attention. Use different structures. Use different punctuation. Use different lengths, not only of sentences, but also of paragraphs. Use parallel structures for dramatic effect. Emphasize a point with a fragment, a command, or a crisp sentence. Be humorous. Be vivid. In other words, don't be boring. Take a look at your work and see if it tends to fall into a pattern and work to break through them.
You'll find just how strong your voice can come through.
Start with a bang. Be the bullet. Sharp and concrete. If your very first words don't capture your reader, they may be your last. Don't write something cliche like "This game is the best RPGs of all time" or "I was walking into GameStop and I saw the game lying on the shelf." This counts for the heading and the title.
Be as broad and specific as you can. It can be long - "Despite a snoozefest of a storyline, this game's exquisite graphics will win you over." Or it can be like a dagger - "This game inspires hatred." You can even start extremely specific, pinpointing that one brilliant or annoying part of the game that exemplifies its worth and ultimate score.
Moreover, by the end of the first paragraph, I should get a overall sense of how you feel about the game. If you start out negative, don't end positive. Or vice versa. [Unless it's delivered with brilliant execution.]
Don't count on the reader to be interested in your review. Make them be interested. Hook them in and don't let them go.
Use specific detail. Nouns and verbs should be your focus. Never run on adjectives and adverbs. Avoid dealing in generalities, which, being generalities, mean nothing. "Enthralling. Luminous." - Great adjectives but what do you mean? "The graphics are amazing" - How amazing? Your idea of amazing is different from someone else's. Cite an example and let your readers weigh them on their own "amazing" scale. "Clear water drips off Samus' visor." "Winding canyons plunder green pastures." "The soundtrack is like Marilyn Manson but on even more acid." Get the picture?
Flow. Nearly every review can work on flow. Do the sentences weave and connect from one to the next? Or does it chop the reader to death? Can I see how you got from one sentence to the next? One paragraph to the next? Do your best not to repeat words or phrases unless it's much too unclear without doing so. Also, don't be afraid to use "But" and "And" as the first word in a sentence. If you have learned not to do this in school, unlearn it.
Focus. Don't pile everything into one paragraph and call it a day. Stick with one main idea and stay on topic. Encapsulate your paragraphs. Just because you're talking about gameplay doesn't mean you can cram every gameplay criticism into one. Either separate them or look for a way to seemlessly include multiple points into one paragarph. If you start wandering off the page, I'm going to start wandering off the review. What are you trying to say? Surprisingly often, writers don't know.
"It won't do to say that the reader is too dumb or too lazy to keep pace with the train of thought. If the reader is lost, it's usually because the writer hasn't been careful enough. That carelessness can take any number of forms. Perhaps a sentence is so excessively cluttered that the reader, hacking through the verbiage, simply doesn't know what it means. Perhaps a sentence has been so shoddily constructed that the reader loses track of who is talking or when the action took place. Perhaps Sentence B is not a logical sequel to Sentence A; the writer, in whose head the connection is clear, hasn't bothered to provide the missing link. Perhaps the writer has used a word incorrectly by not taking the trouble to look it up. The reader can only infer what the writer is trying to imply.
Faced with such obstacles, readers are at first tenacious. They blame themselves - they obviously missed something, and they go back over the mystifying sentence, or over the whole paragraph, piecing it out like an ancient rune, making guesses and moving on. But they won't do that for long. The writer is making the reader work too hard."
Simplicity. Fight the clutter. If you find yourself writing a long sentence, chances are that you are trying to say too much. Examine every word you put on paper. You'll find a surprising number that don't serve any purpose, especially "little qualifiers" that dilute your style and persuasiveness: "personal", "at this point in time", "sort of", "kind of", "a lot of", "a bit", "quite", "very", "pretty much", "in a sense", "really", and so on and so forth. If you can remove a word without damaging the sentence, do so.
Reexamine every sentence. Is every word doing new work? (or are you just repeating what you already said one sentence or four paragraphs ago? Are you blabbing off into space?) Can any thought be expressed in fewer words? (like, say, half the words) Is anything pompous, pretentious or faddish? Are you hanging on to something useless because you're afraid? ("It's worth mentioning that...", "It's interesting to note that...", "This is just my opinion, so...") Or because you think it's beautiful? (But it's so poetic and heartfelt...)
"Few people realize how badly they write. Nobody has shown them how much excess or murkiness has crept into their style and how it obstructs what they are trying to say. If you give me an eight-page article and I tell you to cut it to four pages, you'll howl and say it can't be done. Then you'll go home and do it and it will be much better. After that comes the hard part: cutting it to three."
You are the deputy for the average man and woman. After every sentence, ask "Does the reader really need to know this?" and "What does the reader want to know now?" It has been my experience that writers feel that everything is relevant (especially if it comes out of their mouth). That's great as a first draft but take the time to edit things that aren't important to the reader. Don't hang on to something for the sake of hanging on to it. Unless it's deeply personal or something that you feel confident about including, let it go.
End with a bang. Finish what you started but don't grudge through your concluding paragraph. Maintain the strength of your voice.
"Most of us are still prisoners of the lesson pounded into us by the composition teachers of our youth... We can still visualize the outline, with its Roman numerals (I, II, III), which staked out the road we would faithfully trudge, and its subnumerals (IIa and IIb) denoting lesser paths down which we would briefly poke. But we always promised to get back to III and summarize our journey.
That's all right for elementary and high school students uncertain of their ground. It forces them to see that every piece of writing should have a logical design... But if you're going to write good [reviews], you must wriggle out of III's dread grip.
...You see emerging on your screen a sentence that begins, "In sum...", "Overall...", "In conclusion..." These are signals that you are about to repeat in compressed form what you have already said in detail. The reader's interest begins to falter. The tension you have built begins to sag. Yet you will be true to Miss Potter, your teacher, who made you swear fealty to the holy outline.
But your readers hear the laborious sound of cranking. They notice what you are doing and how bored you are by it.... Why didn't you give more thought to how you were going to wind this thing up? Or are you summarizing because you think they're too dumb to get the point? Still, you keep cranking. But the readers have another option. They quit.
The perfect ending should take your readers slightly by surprise and yet seem exactly right. We are startled to find the scene over, and then delighted by the aptness of how it ended. For the reviewer, the simplest way of putting into a rule is : when you're ready to stop, stop. If you have presented all the facts and made your point you want to make, look for the nearest exit.
Look for a sentence that completes the review but is also surprising. If something surprises you, it will also surprise - and delight - the reader, especially as you conclude your story and send them on their way."
Stylish. Allusive. Disturbing. This is criticism at its best. It jogs a set of beliefs and forces us to reexamine them. Does your review do this?
Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in times of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it's because it is hard.
Posted: May 03, 2006 (08:14 AM)
Maybe I should become a copy editor as well.
Title: Garden of The Homeless (Revision)
Posted: April 30, 2006 (05:41 AM)
Through substantial feedback and superlative wisdoms given at the Poetry-Free-For-All at everypoet.org, I have turned my previous poem into my best work yet.
Careless footsteps pass, lasting
in circles sneering rich,
to swat the homeless, selfish
statues with no design or end,
defenseless to their fault.
The perishing parkbench in morning dust
waits for our forgiveness, for naked
coins through dry-gray rust, the wishing
fountain beating daylight water,
between the mindless chatter of coming,
doing, going, leaving.
When stone, by far your closest friend,
stands you more than the human flock
of walking, talking pigeons, you can
hear their feathers clipped, all by themselves,
pecking pennies on the ground.
Around, around, they cannot open wide,
they cannot open
wide, their fingers sore, pointing at
cardboard skin and bones, calling you
But you ignore their iron hands,
cuffing the life they think is free,
the life you know is still,
with every step, insecure,
carefully returning home.
Title: The Homeless Garden
Posted: April 28, 2006 (11:09 PM)
Careless footsteps pass,
Pass in circles, last.
You are still, in welcome ears
First alone in arms.
Spread free! Aloft a parkbench
Behold! The dusty morn'.
Cloudy reds on dry-gray coins
The fountain wishes to bleed,
Between the mindless chatter
Of goers, doers, leave.
It, by far your closest friend,
Knows that you are stone,
Amidst the human flock
Of walking, talking pigeons.
Feathers clipped all by themselves,
Pecking bread crumbs
Stray. They cannot open wide around
Around their fingers frayed,
So they point at you! oh, paper-thin box
Why behold? the nameless.
Yet, themselves, the box of iron hands
Cuffs the life they think is home
With ev'ry careful step.
Title: You, To The Tree
Posted: April 23, 2006 (12:19 AM)
See mirkwood on pavement
The lifeblood spills
You remember your greedy eyes
Your body of heaven, better than he
Safe in the car of steel
Rushing by the fallen tree
The juice of natural birth
The bitter sin and sympathy
Tasting bark on black cement
The roots are off the side
We are killers of nature's game, we say
As nature lies in the mud
It clings to you, you stubborn seed
You gnarled branch
And the phone call you receive is far more important
Than the eulogy of leaf and stump
The song you need is dead, of course
A speech from a robot's love
Life is but only selfless me
I am beyond the forsaken tree
Look, there it is, behind my face
It snaps like a twig
Title: Do any of you watch X-Play?
Posted: April 22, 2006 (02:53 AM)
I watch it almost religiously - not because of Adam Sessler, maybe for Morgan Webb (go figure) - but I think it's vibrantly entertaining. Yum.
Title: Through The "Issue" of Homosexuality
Posted: April 18, 2006 (05:23 PM)
I would understand hatred of homosexualism if it was evil, and unfortunately, many religions and social culture deem it evil, or at least unnatural and therefore evil. What escapes most is that homosexuals are human beings and should be viewed with humanity. Hating homosexualism is the same as hating blacks, Asians, whites, Indians, the obese, the poor, the rich, the intelligent, the dumb, and if homosexualism is truly a preference, than hating homosexualism is the equivalent to hating someone that likes pistachio ice cream. Many hate pistachio ice cream but that doesn't mean that you should hate people that like pistachio ice cream. Unforunately, the "pistachio ice cream" isn't evil at all. In fact, it's harmless. Homosexuality, in turn, doesn't harm anyone. So to hate homosexuality is a matter of taste but not a matter of morality. But many attach hatred in taste to hatred in morality and there in lies the problem with not only the "issue" of homosexuality but of all issues of discrimination.
Title: An MDA Analysis of Settlers of Catan
Posted: April 17, 2006 (06:06 PM)
"Settlers of Catan" is a multiplayer board game where players must collect resources and build settlements to colonize the island of Catan. This is an MDA-analysis of the game, examining the Mechanics, Dynamics, and Aesthetic models of the game.
Mechanics: Long Setup – While I played the online version of Settles of Catan, I understand that the setup for the board game is quite elaborate. You have to arrange the land tile hexes, the island tiles around them, the numbers within the hexes, the robber, the ports, the appropriate resources and buildings to the respective players, and the exhaustive goes on and on…
Dynamics: Pre-Planning – After the elaborate setup, players will have to place two settlements and two roads on the board. They know that where they place them may make or break their chances at winning the game. So while the game is setup, players already begin to plan their strategies, paying careful attention to the prime locations on the board, places that have high probabilistic numbers, are on the borders of different land tiles, are near a port, and have wide open areas for expansion.
Aesthetics: Emotional and Time Pre-Investment – It takes about 10 minutes to coordinate and distribute all the units in the game. During that time, players will feel already invested, both time-wise (10 minutes) and emotionally (through pre-planning), even though the game hasn’t started. Players begin to form their strategies - and intentions - before the dice are even rolled. Players are not only experience an ongoing emotional investment, but a pre-emotional investment.
Mechanics: Setup of Various Environmental Tiles – During setup, players must decide where to place, some randomly, each land tile and each water tile. The water and port tiles surround the land tiles, which are placed in the middle of the board and are comprised of forests, mountains, hills, plains, and pastures. Then, they place numbers on each land tile systematically using the special letter/number hex tiles.
Dynamics: Island Assembly - Players arrange tiles and numbers quite randomly onto the board. Players can achieve different layouts and actively assemble the island. In a way, player feel like they are a god, creating a different island for every game.
Aesthetics: Prologue & Freshness – Since there are so many ways to assemble the island, players will feel that each time they play the game is a unique experience. How the numbers and land tiles are arranged keep the strategies at least partially dependent on the layout of the board. This god-like feeling also initiates a prologue, the beginning of the narrative. Players feel like they are actually discovering a new island, with water surrounding a land with different environments, and they begin the make-believe of actually settling and colonizing the island of Catan.
Mechanics: Dice Roll – Players roll a pair of dice to determine player order and, more importantly, which resources are made at any one turn. Players who have settlements or cities that border a hex labeled with that rolled number gain appropriate resources from that hex.
Aesthetics: Odds-Centered Strategy - The random distribution of a 2D6 comes into effect. It invokes strategies that lead city and settlement placement, as hexes with numbers close to “7” (but not “7” due to the robber) have a higher resource-productivity rate. Players must take dice odds into consideration when expanding their territory, taking into account the quantity and variety of land tiles. The possibility of not gaining any goods during a round also provokes a “spend or save” decision. The choice to either save goods for a city or use them now for a road or a development card appears often. Also, since there are multiple hexes with the same numbers and there frequently are multiple settlements and cities that border a hex, production is shared amongst players. Often, more than one player produces goods on any given roll.
Aesthetics: Luck, Tension, Cooperation – Since resource production depends entirely on the fate of the roll, players never know whether they will receive the resources they need to attribute points. Some rounds will have them gain a wealth of goods while other rounds will have them produce nothing, and even possibly lose goods (if opponents use progress development cards against them). On top of the “spend and save” dynamic, the high and lows of the luck of the dice create tension throughout the game and players are always on edge, always emotionally invested in the game. Passive cooperation is also present, because most players gain resources at the same time. It serves as a constant reminder that players are all trying to reach the same goal.
Mechanics: Roads – Players must build roads, by trading one wood and one brick resource to the bank during their turn, in order to create additional settlements. To further induce players, a +2 bonus is given to the player that creates the longest road (which must be of at least length 5). Roads are placed in between hexes and cannot be built on top of another road – there can only be one road on each edge.
Dynamics: Territory – Players look for the best placement of roads so that they have enough open space for settlements (or future settlements), and long roads (if they are shooting for the +2 bonus). Since roads cannot overlap, placing roads play an important role in impeding the progress of another player’s roads.
Aesthetics: Spatial Ownership and Awareness – Besides the flexibility in choice of how a player can gain points (the +2 bonus), players must become spatially aware of the board beyond just the hex tiles. Players must pay attention to the edges between hexes and translate clear or used edges into strategy. Roads are also a means of gaining land – ownership of the board, if you will – and serves a physical reference of the player’s progress. The more roads the player has, the better off they are in general.
Mechanics: Variety of Resources and Buildings – Different land tiles produce different resources: hills produce brick, mountains produce ore, forests provide trees, fields provide wheat, and pastures have sheep. Similarly, different resources can make different buildings: 1 of each resource except for an ore can be turned into a settlement; 2 brick and 3 ore can turn a settlement into a city; 1 brick and 1 wood creates a road; and (oddly) 1 sheep, 1 ore, and 1 wheat can be exchanged for a development card.
Dynamics: Assortment and Trade - Players must shoot for specific goods to build specific buildings. While different strategies yield various ratios of goods that a player desires, all players generally want to have an assortment of goods. That way, they can build whatever they need at the appropriate time. Going with the odds, players won’t have all the resources they need, especially at the beginning of the game, so there is an incentive to ask other players for goods; rather than trading 3:1 by way of a port or 4:1 by trading with the bank. The possibility of making a 1:1 deal with another player initiates trade.
Aesthetics: Unit Cohesion and Immersion – The fact that lands tiles produce resources that make sense – mountains don’t produce sheep (unless they are really funky sheep) – and that buildings in real-life are made by those resources creates a sense of realism. Players bond with the gameplay on a basis of common knowledge. Furthermore, players feel like they are truly colonizing an island – cities are not made of steel but of more primitive materials. Settlers of Catan presents an islander culture that is believable.
Mechanics: Trade System with Players – During their turn after rolling the dice, players may offer a trade (must be public) between any amount and assortment of resources to selected players; that is, a player can open trade exclusively to other players and not to others. The offer can be rejected, however.
Dynamics: Socialization - Even though rejection occurs often, the tangible possibility of making a 1:1-resource deal with another player offers a welcoming alternative to the 3:1 port and 4:1 bank. Since players can selectively choose who they deal with, it also shows who that player is against and who that player is in allegiance with. In most cases, and especially when playing against robots online, cooperative competition comes into effect. If there is a substantial leader, then the other players usually exclude trade with the leader and reject offers made by the leader. Whatever the case, players converse with each other and can influence the outcome of a deal, whether it be their own offer or not.
Aesthetics: Real-Time Strategy, Personalization - This mechanic alone is what separates Settles of Catan from most other board games. In addition to the luck of the dice, it uses socialization as a way of creating a real-time strategy effect. Trade induces strategy, which in turn induces more trade, and coupled with dice-rolling and resource balancing acts, the game employs player interaction as a means of getting away from the tradition of turn-based board games. Moreover, a player’s expression and personality translates into their actions. In general, a passive player won’t offer as many trades, a loner won’t trade altogether, a barterer will make many trades, and essentially, how a person trades reflects a part of their personality. There is a self-story that personalizes the game, because the outcome does not only depend directly on the dice, but also on the personalities of the players. At the same time, the game can be won whether a player trades or not, so while there may be an incentive to trade, players won’t feel like their lack of trading immediately puts them out of the running to win. Settles of Catan is approachable to different kinds of players, if not all.
Mechanics: Development Cards – By trading one sheep, one grain, and one ore, players can draw a card from the top of the development deck, receiving either a Progress card, a Knight card, or a Victory Point card. Players hide their cards and cards can be played at any time during their turn, even before they roll dice. Progress cards are one-time effects that bolster their position, and one card in particular – Monopoly – takes all resources of one type from a player’s opponents into his or her stock. Knight Cards instantly moves the robber piece when one is played, and a +2 bonus is given to a player with the largest army (of at least 3 Knight Cards). Victory Point cards are instant points that are used to fulfill the 10-point winning condition.
Dynamics: Secret Weapon – Since cards are concealed and players can use them at any time during their time, cards are used like daggers. They are secret weapons or last-ditch efforts that can turn the tide. Usually, players can tell how well other players are doing by the number of roads, cities, and settlements that player has. But with Victory Point cards and the +2 bonus for having the largest army, players can hide how many points they actually have.
Aesthetics: Surprise – Besides opening the possibilities of how to gain points, cards provide a sudden surprise. Bam! When a player plays a card, all attention focuses on that action and since it could happen during any time, it adds tension. Players also feel a sense of ownership and power when they hold cards like Monopoly, because they know that they have a back-up plan or some incredible force they can use - sort of like owning a nuclear bomb. Development cards keep players on the tip of their toes and fosters an uneasy feeling with other players that only enhances the sense of competition.
Mechanics: Robber – When a player rolls a “7” or when a player plays a Knight card, players must discard excess resources, and the robber moves from his square to a space of that player’s choosing. The robber blocks production in the new hex and steals a resource card, at random, on behalf of the player who moved him from any one player who has a settlement or city touching the hex the robber is placed in.
Dynamics: Forced Conflict - Since the probability of rolling a “7” on a 2D6 is about a 20%, the robber will probably be moved more than enough times to see its effect. Since players can steal resources from opposing players and prevent production of any hex, a balancing act occurs. Further pursuing the cooperative competition dynamic, players naturally go after the person in the lead, by either preventing production of one of their hexes and/or stealing that lead player’s goods.
Aesthetics: Revenge - First, the idea that the robber starts in the desert square in a purely aesthetic choice that makes the robber seem like a dervish, an Aladdin of sorts. The robber acts sort of like a neutral party, since anyone can employ his “services”, and thereby fosters revenge all the more. (It wasn’t me that stole your goods, it was the robber. I was forced.) Sure, revenge isn’t the best of reasons to play a game, but forced conflict through the robber fuels cooperative competition, providing an unspoken competition between players that everyone knows exist.
Title: Sunset Kisses
Posted: April 14, 2006 (05:12 PM)
If this expression could hold
Upon the waves, upon the frames of dusk
I would keep myself upon the shore
And know the tide upon my toes
If this expression drowned
Upon the sunken ships
I would never soar beneath the waters
And know the depth of our burn
To the driest sun
And if you could find me in blue
Dressed in charcoal seashells
Will I follow your expression
That light upon the fringe
Escaping my dire lips
Posted: April 13, 2006 (10:34 AM)
I have an image stuck in my head:
You know Shrek? You know that bird that explodes?
Yeah, now you have it in your head.