The Lasting Excellence of Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver’s Writing

Raziel in Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver.

Raziel in Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver.

Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver is widely regarded for its excellent writing. There’s a reason for this that may not exactly surprise you: its writing is excellent, and deserves to be studied as an exemplar of what game writing can be.

First released to critical acclaim in 1999 for the original PlayStation, Soul Reaver had many things going for it. It had an intriguing “phase shifting” gameplay mechanic that innovated in design while stretching what was technically possible on the PS1; excellent voice performances across the board; an open, free-roaming world two years before GTA3’s release on the PS2; and of course, that fantastic writing, penned by Amy Hennig, who went on to write the Uncharted games.

So what made the writing so good?

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Posted in game design, game dev tips, narrative

Learning How to Live

Very few people actually know how to live. While those of us struggling to improve ourselves may think everyone else magically has their lives together, the $9 billion that the country spends in self-help books, seminars and programs says otherwise.

If nothing else, the huge market for this kind of material suggests that most of us have sizable gaps in our perceived knowledge of how life is supposed to work on this planet, and we’re figuring out the rest as we go.

To make this process as useful as possible, I’ve identified a basic three-step method to make continuous improvement a relaxing, enjoyable practice.

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Posted in living

Networking Smart with Billboards and Magnets

empty billboard
To the uninitiated, professional networking is an intimidating business. For veterans, however, it resembles something closer to hanging out with the purpose of getting to know others in your field for future employment, recruitment or collaboration opportunities.

Once you grow accustomed to how it all works – the dance of cursory introductions, the exchange of base stats (Are you working? Looking? Doing what?), the tangents into related anecdotes, the mutual feeling-out of each other’s humor and sensibilities – it all becomes an amusing practice. Almost like interactive people-watching.

Yet even for veteran networkers, there is a hard limit that caps the effectiveness of any networking attempt: the physical limitation of only being in one place at a time. Luckily, there are two ways of conceptualizing the act of networking that can help multiply your efforts. These are known as billboards and magnets.

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Posted in business, culture, new york

Particle Mace: The Space Game About Selflessness

Particle Mace in action.

Particle Mace in action.

Nothing can match the power of subtext. In almost any interaction between sentient beings, the things that go unsaid tend to be the most powerful. One reason for why this remains an innate human truth is the power of the personal realization, and its more grandiose cousin, the epiphany.

For whatever reason, piecing together a truth about a situation yourself hits with greater impact than if someone were to walk up and tell you straight out.

In games, creating effective subtext is notoriously difficult. Iterating on mechanics that invite closer critical reads without resorting to skimpy, bolted-on narrative accoutrements like Braid’s text info dumps, or the numerous titles that employ disembodied narrators wholly divorced from gameplay to communicate narrative exposition, is so incredibly rare that when you find it, it merits discussion.

Particle Mace is the rare game that achieves this.

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Posted in culture, game design, interview

The Hidden Bias Behind Faces

Source: Futomaki

Source: Futomaki

When you meet someone for the first time, a thousand things happen. Consciously and unconsciously you note their facial expressions, their body language, the tone of their voice – all of the myriad tiny movements that broadcast their essence as a person to you within seconds. It all happens so fast, and much of it below the conscious level, that we often fall back on logic to explain away why we feel a certain way about someone we’ve just met.

But beneath the pat comfort of logic, our beliefs are already formed.

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Posted in culture

When Refusing to Grow Up Is Holding You Back

Being childish is a bad thing. The term brings to mind the kind of pure selfishness that comes with a lack of life experience, the inability to register the considerations of others and the solipsist belief that your concerns are paramount in the world.

But being a “kid at heart” is generally seen as a good thing, and so is embracing your “inner child.” Both expressions indicate a retained sense of wonder and innocence, as a kind of shortcut to one’s capacity to experience joy.

Trying to conclude if identification with childhood is good or bad is a false dichotomy. Yet the topic begs further discussion, especially in today’s culture of high-speed capitalistic indulgence that caters to Joe and Jill Consumer’s inner children with pinpoint precision.

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Posted in business, culture

A Game of This Year Award: Icarus Proudbottom Teaches Typing

Icarus Proudbottom Mission Complete
There are very few games that pull off comedic timing as well as Icarus Proudbottom Teaches Typing. As written about in an interview with developer Holy Wow earlier this year, IPTT is simultaneously a subversive parody of the classic hokey typing games of the ‘90s, an admirable typing game in its own right, and a gleeful march into that uncomfortable space during a conversation when you’re not quite sure if the person you’re talking to is one of the sharpest people you’ve ever met or completely out of his mind.

And yet, IPTT isn’t content to just be a humorous distraction.

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Posted in culture, reviews

The Rise of the Artcade

Custom arcade cabinets at Fantastic Fest in Austin. (Photo: Fantastic Fest)

Custom arcade cabinets at Fantastic Arcade in Austin. (Photo: Fantastic Fest)

Arcades are making a comeback – but this time, you can keep your quarters. Those familiar pieces of vertical, freestanding furniture that once offered sweet release from boredom at the nearby pizzeria or amusement park have returned – but something has changed. After years in cultural exile, the arcade game has grown sophisticated.

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Posted in culture, future, new york

The Glorious Lie of the Indie Bubble

Grab your laptops and head for the hills! The bursting of the great indie game bubble is upon us!

Surely by now you’ve heard about the surfeit of worthwhile games available on Steam and elsewhere, the Kickstarter fatigue that’s stricken gamers and thing-purchasers around the world, the mounting competition in terms of rising quality and sheer numbers, and the logic-defying, margin-erasing pay-what-you-want model of all the indie game bundles nowadays.

I mean, it’s clear from these factual observations that not only will there be not enough money to go around, but that some deserving games will get lost in the shuffle, right? Surely that state of affairs is tantamount to a massive bubble bursting!

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Posted in business, culture

Play Nice: Building the Well-Behaved Game

Screenshot: UFC Undisputed 2010

Screenshot: UFC Undisputed 2010

Maybe it was something a teacher said to you years ago, when you were still a child. Maybe a parent uttered an offhand comment that stayed with you, despite its seeming normalcy. Maybe a stranger muttered something to you on the street, wished you goodwill when you needed to hear it most, or spoke a cryptic statement that stuck in your mind for some reason, only to realize the wisdom tidily packed up inside years later.

Whatever it was, this innocuous statement somehow has kept your attention all these years, maybe in the back of your mind, but always there as a constant. Perhaps it has become a story you tell, or a sentence you quote in an attempt to distill its special power for the benefit of others. Perhaps it has changed your entire perception of the person who said it. Perhaps it has wormed its way into your core belief system, spreading like a virus, becoming the linchpin of a major revision of your overarching life philosophy.

And maybe – just maybe – something you’ve said or done without even thinking has had this exact effect on someone else.

Posted in f2p, game design, game dev tips