Category Archives: Uncategorized

Leaving the lights on in Gone Home (spoilers)

I finally got around to playing through Gone Home, and I was pretty impressed. There’s a lot to dissect as far as its relationships, environmental storytelling, and the like, but I though I’d take a blog post to talk about its mood. That is, it’s the scariest non-horror game I’ve played, and that gives the narrative extra emotional punch.

Everything about Gone Home seems engineered to fill you with a sense of dread—the lightning and thunder, the constant darkened rooms, the abandoned and unfamiliar house, the hints of a ghost story. Not knowing what to expect, I never knew just how intense this might get. It seemed to be telling a much more personal story about Sam, but I was also ready for it to pull the rug out from me at any moment.

This unnerving slow boil is important. I think Fullbright wanted you to be a little on-edge by the time you reach the finale, when you find some of Sam’s final messages. When she talked about just waiting in the attic upstairs, the quiet in the house became that much more potent, and I wondered if she had done something rash. If it hadn’t built up that sense of unease, if the tone didn’t have an edge of tension, I wouldn’t have felt that sense of concern, which is what leads to the relief when you realize what really happened. I wondered what the tension was meant to accomplish, but it really paid off by subverting my expectations. I’m still processing it on the whole, but that element certainly stood out.

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Broke Bad (spoilers, obviously)

The Breaking Bad finale was last night. It was as well-shot, well-acted, and satisfying as I’ve come to expect. I’m going to miss it, along with the excellent critiques at the AV Club that always shed some new light on it, and the official podcast that got deep into the characters’ skins with word from the actors and writers.

If I were to criticize it for anything, and this is barely a criticism, it’s that the plot didn’t really surprise me. I say that’s barely a criticism because I don’t know if surprises were or even should have been a priority at this point. We all knew what the “Mr. Chips to Scarface” premise entails, so we knew the broad strokes at play here.

A few things did surprise me about the execution. He (seemingly) found a way to get the money to his family. The slow pan to reveal that Walter was there the entire time Skylar was on the phone with Marie was chilling. His jerry-rigged automatic gun was a very Breaking Bad spin on the “say hello to my little friend” moment. The most satisfying for me was that he admitted, to Skylar, the audience, and himself, that he wasn’t doing this for some noble goal. He liked it, and it made him feel alive. I suppose at a certain point the show felt it had to spell it out, for the benefit of people who went to the very end claiming he was doing the wrong things for the right reasons.

But all that said, the story happenings themselves didn’t surprise me. I’d prefer a well-executed but somewhat predictable ending to some tacked-on twist. Walt, in the last shot, looks at the camera and says, “I never had cancer.” No thanks. But can you even imagine?

Lessons from PitchJam (Or: “What the Heck is a PitchJam?”)

As you may have seen me tweeting, I took part in PitchJam this weekend. Similar to a GameJam, this was targeted specifically at giving advice to aspiring video game freelancers. They would send a pitch, it would get forwarded to some randomly selected panel volunteers, and we would give feedback on how to polish it up for submission. We also had a few chats scattered around where writers could talk to us directly. It was a really great exercise for me, both for thinking critically about pitches and putting that feedback to work in a practical way. The Good Games Writing blog has already said it wants to do another, and I’d like to do it again.

None of the pitches I received were outright bad, but everything can use a little improvement. So in the spirit of the event, I thought I’d summarize some of the common bits of advice I found myself needing to tell more than one writer.

Consider where you pitch. This is basic, but it’s an absolute must. When formulating your pitch you need to think through the audience that will be reading it. That will influence how you shape your idea, what kind of pitches you send to which outlets, and how much detail you share. Since word count is at a premium (more on that later), you might not need to go into painstaking detail about a niche game or genre if you’re pitching to a site that specializes in that game or genre. Always consider the audience.

Grab their attention quickly. Editors tend to knock out pitches in a row, and they get flooded with them. Grabbing their attention quickly is important. Your opening line especially, and your opening paragraph in a more general sense, are there to paint a picture. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but I like the three-paragraph structure: punchy opening, detailed proposal, closing comments.  But on that note…

Watch the size. This question actually came up at one of our chats, and while the answers differed, we generally agreed that 300 words is around the sweet spot. You don’t want to go too far above that. As I said, editors are busy. And besides that, if your finished piece will be 1,000-1,200 words, you don’t want to write out half the length just to explain it. I’m pretty sure it was the excellent writer Rob Rath who pointed out in the chat that if you’re going on that long, it probably means your scope is too large. Split it into two or more pitches.

Give it credibility. If you’re an expert on the subject you’re writing about, explain why. If you’re not, don’t be afraid to say that you’ll be reaching out to experts. You don’t necessarily need the interviews already lined-up, but having them helps. If you don’t, make sure you don’t over-promise. Simply saying you want to talk to someone who knows about science is more realistic than promising you’ll score an interview with Stephen Hawking. If you need to find an interview subject, I recommend colleges and universities. Professors tend to be very friendly, and love the opportunity to just talk about their passion for an hour.

Tell YOUR story. Sometimes, the most interesting thing you can talk about is yourself. If your own life has given you some interesting insights or anecdotes, think about whether you feel comfortable sharing them. If you do, it will make the piece that much more of an interesting read. People like to read about other people.

Close like a cover letter. Always, always, always say thank you for their time. No matter how casual the site, no matter how well you know the editor. Imagine you’re trying to score a job interview, because you kind of are.

Back to Bloggin’

This thing has gone silent for a good long while, but I recently decided to update with a bit more regularity. I don’t think I’m going to do daily updates with the news, since that made it feel more like a chore and I always felt like I was letting down some imaginary audience when I was too busy for an entry. But, I do plan on updating with thoughts about the conversations of the day, at least inasmuch as I can.

For a perfect example, see Grand Theft Auto 5. I’m reserving public judgment on it because I’m reviewing it. We’ll be saving our Shacknews review for after GTA Online comes out, so I don’t have to rush through and we can just review it all as one complete package. As a result, I’m keeping myself from chiming in too much on the discussion about misogyny.

I will say, though, that “it’s satire” isn’t a very good defense against charges of misogyny. If you’re going to excuse the game portraying Very Bad Things as satire, you should argue about why it’s smart and effective satire. I think that answer is a little too easy to shrug off criticisms, and if it’s truly excusable as satire, we should expect to hear some cogent thoughts on how successful it is at accomplishing its satirical goals.

(I don’t have much of an opinion on it one way or the other yet, but depending on how strongly I react to the story, positively or negatively, I expect I’ll touch on this in some way in my review.)

You probably also noticed that the blog looks different. I got a bit sick of the old one, especially due to its emphasis on pictures. This job doesn’t really involve visual media, at least not of work I’ve done myself, so it felt weird simply putting up pictures of media I respect and admire. This one puts the emphasis on text and text alone.

Finally, my Twitter and LinkedIn profile both list me as “East Coast Editor” for Shacknews now. I have a title! Exciting times.

A strange RPG hankering

I blame Theatrhythm for my current RPG hankering. I started with Persona 3 Portable and Rainbow Moon, but now I’m dipping toes in FF4 and the free Fire Emblem for GBA I got as a 3DS Ambassador. The problem with taking on these many RPGs all at once is that I’m basically signing up for a ton of games that each last dozens of hours.

So like I said, I blame Theatrhythm. Here’s my review.

  • If you told me to guess who else was slated in PlayStation All-Stars, these three would be my first guesses. They’re good additions, but I’m really waiting for more obscure picks.
  • Follow meeeeee.
  • Justice League with RPG elements. Yes.

Seattle-bound

So those who don’t follow my Twitter or Facebook accounts might not have seen that I’m going to be on a PAX panel, again. This one will be at PAX Prime in August, and will be a new version of our game controversies panel from PAX East. It’s titled “Beyond Borders: Global Game Controversies.” If you’ve attended the first one, rest assured we’ll be tackling new topics this time. And it won’t even be on Easter morning! That also probably means we won’t be chucking Cadbury eggs to the crowd this time. Sorry.

This will be my second time in Seattle, the first being years ago to check out PAX Prime without any particular social obligation or media reporting to do.

So if you’re heading out to Seattle for the event, check us out in the Unicorn Theater on Saturday, September 1 at 5 PM. Or just say hi, if you recognize me. I will try not to be weirded out.

  • The Kinect PlayFit app does not seem easy to find. I don’t play Kinect games all that often, but I’d like to be building towards something when I do, if the option is available.
  • I’m pretty skeptical about OUYA, but good on them for collecting their goal so fast. I might even pick one up if I hear good things. Wondering what the final name will be. (As a general rule, I don’t contribute to any gaming Kickstarters, as I feel it would remove a layer of impersonal objectivity between me and the story.)
  • This Leviathan thing looks like pretty much what I wanted out of Mass Effect 3 DLC. More story content. I’d actually even like if they went a little further with the “legend” thing, and just made stories about Shepard that have nothing to do with Reapers.

Change of Plans

I had a pretty simple weekend set out, as far as my game time goes. I would play a bit of Skyrim for my ongoing Dawnguard Diaries series, and maybe chip away a little at Lollipop Chainsaw and Spec-Ops: The Line (from GameFly) as I have time. But as my twitter alluded to, I got an invite to a beta of Dust 514. I’m curious enough about it to sink some time into it. Plus, Penny Arcade 3 came out on the Indie channel, so I’d like to start toying with it.

I also have a few demos on my 3DS that I should try out, and there are Pokeymans to catch and gravities to rush. Also, did you realize “gravities” is a real word? I suppose you might need such a thing to describe… more than one gravity.

My game time just got a lot more crowded.

  • Speaking of my Skyrim series, my second Dawnguard Diary went up today. In which I explore the implications of multiple realities via two save files. I’m going for a light-hearted feel with these, and trying to pack in little nuggets of information about the game in that framework.
  • I seriously thought the Move wheel was a joke until E3, or at least a patent so silly they’d never follow through. How wrong I was.
  • Ten bucks for Shadow of the Colossus, you say? Hm.

Joining the Dawnguard

As it turns out, I am playing Dawnguard after all. On top of a few freelance pieces due this week, and at least one interview to conduct, I’m going to be writing up some bits about the Skyrim DLC. It’s making a busy week busier, but then again, it is playing a bit of content I wanted to play anyway. I can’t really complain.

I’ve actually played a bit more Simpsons: Tapped Out over the weekend. I might try checking into that more now. I think I was turned off for a bit since some Origin login issues lost my save file, but I can just task everyone with longer-form missions and then put it away for several hours. Rather handy, that.

  • Lulz.
  • I used to follow Team Fortress 2 updates like a religion, back when I was playing it on Xbox 360 to an unhealthy degree. Nowadays I’ve kicked the habit, and man, everything looks super-foreign to me. Particularly Poopy Joe.
  • Shut up and take my money!

Sony overloads a full backlog

Last week, Sony piled on my backlog with the new “game collection” initiative from PlayStation Plus. It added a ton of games I want to work my way through, even discounting the ones I’ve already played or that I’m not that interested in. Hard Corps Uprising has been taking up most of my time. Something about mixing platforming with upgrade-grinding is a very potent mixture, apparently.

Today, Gravity Rush comes out too, and this weekend is Pokemon Conquest. All of those have to be pushed to the side as much as possible, though, because I’m reviewing a game this week too. But man, it’s still summer and there’s a game buffet all around me.

  • Glad to hear I can get the military DLC without pre-ordering, because I wasn’t sure if I’d get Gravity Rush until just today.
  • I wasn’t following this SpaceVenture Kickstarter that closely until today when I wrote about it, but reading the voice cast definitely got my attention.

E3: On the bright side

I’ve stated a few times that E3 this year has been a bit dull. But, this being the Internet, plenty of people tend to take something that was merely okay and claim it was an absolute irredeemable train wreck. I’d like to be a little more positive, so I thought I’d close up my E3 blogs this year with some games that I can’t wait to play. And this doesn’t even include everything I’m interested in or curious about. Just the ones that I’m most looking forward to, in no particular order.

New Super Mario Bros 2 and U – I grouped these together for the sake of simplicity, and they are pretty similar. But they also both look absolutely fantastic, and I’ll be getting them both, no question. Nintendo doesn’t drop the ball with NSMB games, and the hook in each of these — especially the coin overload in the 3DS title — seem like clever enough twists to support a new game within that framework.

Beyond: Two Souls – I had my problems with Heavy Rain, namely that the twist made no sense whatsoever, but it was still a cinematic experience with real consequence. Beyond looks like it builds on those concepts with some otherworldly concepts. I wish I knew a little more about the actual gameplay, but on sheer storytelling prowess alone Quantic Dream has me interested.

South Park – I had heard it looks like the show, but I don’t think anyone realized just how much it looks like the show. Really just an amazing showing at the Microsoft conference, and the bits of writing we’ve heard definitely show that the game is keeping the show’s sharp wit.

Watch Dogs – To join the chorus of praise here, this looks great. I’m calling it now: Ubisoft could be introducing its next Assassin’s Creed level franchise. Speaking of which.

Assassin’s Creed 3/Liberation – I’m already in the tank for Assassin’s Creed, but seeing Connor’s quick movements and climbing skills really looks like it sets this game apart from the previous “trilogy” of Ezio. It may not be the leap from AC1 to AC2, but it looks awfully close. Meanwhile Liberation has me interested mostly on the concept of its unique hero and setting. Plus I like the idea of taking an AC game on the go properly since the PSP one was pretty terrible.

Pikmin 3 – I never got much into the Pikmin franchise, and I’ve considered picking up one of the existing ones. But now that I’ve seen this, I think I’ll wait. The GamePad controls just seem so natural, it really seems like the ideal way to play.

Star Wars 1313 – Finally, a Star Wars game without Jedi. We don’t always have to be Jedi, for God’s sake.

Paper Mario: Sticker Star – I love the Paper Mario series in general, and ever since I first saw the Paper Mario 3DS teaser I was all for it. The concept just clicks so well with that aesthetic, and the lengthy gameplay demonstration during Nintendo’s 3DS showcase just cemented it further for me.

Castlevania LoS Mirror of Fate – The DS Castlevania games were universally good, sometimes great. This one looks like it builds on the exploration that made those so fun, and mixes some of the more complex battle mechanics from Lords of Shadow.

Halo 4 – Halo is looking better than it ever has, with some reflections of the Metroid Prime series, a free “season” of co-op story content, and a new story that will let them get away from the intractable Covenant mythology.