Wednesday, 31 December 2008

From Go to Woe - Only The Best of SLRC in '08

Two Thousand and Eight in the year of our Lord was the year SLRC really entered its stride. While the URL of ‘’ was officially claimed in October of Oh-Seven, the first real piece of writing on the blog that says anything worth reading was the April ‘08 Round Table entry ‘Starcraft and the power of 3’s’. Off to a slightly shaky start, the piece was roughly shoe-horned into the round table topic of the month but was ostensibly targeting the potential within asynchronous gameplay.

Actually, there was a small piece buried in the earlier fluff that pointed towards the future direction of the blog – a post about how System Shock 2 is a bit skewed towards the hacker/navy career path. I think that I was actually wrong in saying that though (even if I didn’t exactly test the alternatives in practice), but I’d be interested in hearing other tales from SS2 players, if only because it’s such a classic (and dare I say canonical?) game. Its influence on the hallowed Bioshock is deeply profound and obvious to any veteran of the earlier ‘Shock game.

In May, while researching my thesis I attended the “first ever academic conference held in World of Warcraft” and then promptly cancelled my subscription. I never did go back for Wrath. Also in May, I presented to my honours class, a seminar on immersion in videogames and took an Xbox with me to show them all Call of Duty 4. Immersion is an interesting topic, and the class members were most familiar with literary comparisons – an interesting counterpoint to my own reliance on CLINT HOCKING and Chris Crawford for theories of videogame immersion.

In June I created the ‘Things-to-do-while-you-should be working on your thesis’ tag, which was first applied to one of my most enduringly popular posts ‘10 Free Indie Games to play while not working on your thesis’, although… it seems I never applied that tag to that actual post. Nevertheless, it fits, and it has been consistently a popular search result on Google for ‘Free Indie Games’. Also in June, I blogged what is possibly my longest post ever, ‘A post for Xenia: Simulation and an apologetic explanation of Super Columbine Massacre RPG’. Which was probably the first post of mine to gain some real traction in the blog-o-sphere, going purely on comments. L.B. Jeffries managed to succinctly sum up my argument saying,

If I'm reading you right...the basic idea is that instead of making a bunch of events to experience the creator should instead be creating a bunch of reactions to the player.

Which would have only been so much easier if I had just said that, but then it might not have been as persuasive? Who’s to know. It was also an important landmark for SLRC because it really hints at the focus of most of my analysis and player/experience centric-criticism for the rest of the year. These are the things that ‘I’m Quite Interested In’.

July was almost a non-starter, busy as I was with thesis coursework, but I managed to squeeze out a post asking the question ‘Should we aim for some sort of rating system for indie games?’ after I introduced DEATH WORM to a bunch of 6-10 year olds to general hilarity.

In August, I wrote up what eventually became the motivating question for my thesis – why do game developers think a linear medium like music can just be shoved into a nonlinear videogame? – in the post ‘Videogames and Digital Musicians’.

September opened with the cracking ‘What speaks to me the most’, a post all about my inclination towards the ‘tourist’ player type in Mitch Krpata’s New Taxonomy of Gamers, the spiritual successor to Richard Bartle’s earlier ‘taxonomy of MUD players’. Expanding on that idea and partially in response to a post by Corvus Elrod adressing player preference for first person or third person camera, I wrote ‘The peaks and perils of first person camera’. An interesting foreshadowing of things to come – in it I mentioned a Game Set Watch column which pointed out how ‘innovative’ the latest Alone in the Dark game’s mechanic of forcing you to check your body for injuries was. Almost in answer to my criticism of AitD (Why would you need to know where to heal yourself if you are actually in this body?), Far Cry 2 would later in the year present a similar focus on embodiment minus the need to ‘discover’ where you were injured. In the rest of the month of September, I wrote about ‘The Affect Discussion’ which still hasn’t really been addressed adequately by videogame critics or proponents, and did a back-and-forth retrospective with an old friend of mine in a retrospective on the classic computergame-making-game ZZT.

If April was SLRC’s beginning, October was the month in which we could finally say ‘SLRC has arrived’. The big announcement in it was the completion of my thesis, but it was quickly overshadowed by, first, my second ever contribution to the Blogs of the Round Table ‘Playing Halo with my Mother’ and later by my initial burst of enthusiasm for Far Cry 2. The initial pre-game discussion in ‘Why I’m so Fracking excited about Far Cry 2’ was quickly followed by ‘Far Cry 2: Wrongs and Rights’ in which I had my first encounter with a game designer In The Wild when CLINT HOCKING stopped by the blog to thank me for the attention paid to his game. I then tried to pry myself away from Far Cry 2 to play Fable 2 with a rather scathing result, and at around which point SLRC celebrated its technical First Birthday. October rocketed home with ‘War Stories from Mosate Soleo’ leading the charge, followed up close behind by a quick photo-journey through Far Cry 2 (which has sadly since been broken by my flickr reorganisation). Finally October culminated in the Magnum Opus ‘Hocking’s Masterpiece’ which has been rather widely linked to as an excellent example of SMART fanboyishness.

Ah, November, what a month. If I had to pinpoint the onset of The Madness it would be somewhere in November. Two Posts about Valve’s Left 4 Dead added a distinctly metallic taste to the month and with the additional arrival of Fallout 3 it became a bit of a clusterfrak. Far Cry 2 had well and truly ruined me for any and all future games with Fallout 3 not surviving the comparison with honour intact. However, with the posting of this rather vitriolic diatribe against its rather flaccid ending (which was supposed to be more entertainingly ironic than I think the post it ended up) I think I needed to straighten-up and fly right by criticizing a rather less easy target. And perhaps a little more coherently. Which I did when I got annoyed by the vapid portrayal of ‘the moustache twirling evil doer’ character, Mister Burke and pointed out how he should have been more Heath Ledger and less Jack Nicholson. And there’s was a photo of a scorpion stuck on a fence! Giggle!

Which leads into December, wherein The Madness reaches a head – starting with ‘Frank Bilders is Dead’, a first person perspective piece. Look ma’, I’m in a vidjagame! Erm… I also posted a review for a game that came out two months prior, and with which I was right pleased (the review, not the game: that as pretty dumb) – here’s to more videogame review gigs! Then I wrote what I felt was perhaps a slightly overlooked piece on Far Cry 2I have two hands and with them I touch the world’, which (I thought at least) was Pretty Smashing Actually and all about the difference having hands as the central embodiment of the avatar made over traditional FPS gun-centrism. Around that time the whole ‘Games Journalism Journalism’ trend fired up again (lead by Mister Snappy Gamer and his Angry Internet Man impersonations) and I had to have a go myself – writing to criticize the trend of talking about games and mechanics as though it was more maths than art. Yes that touched a bit of a nerve, but the cool was kept. I’m just much more into the experience and the subjective (done well) – and this could not be made plainer than by my ‘Going Gonzo’ piece. In December I also finally got my thesis marks (86 – High Distinction, just) and posted the full text for all and sundry. With that, I started posting the (exceptionally long, but terribly worthwhile) transcript of my interview with Marty O’Donnell – composer and Audio Director of the Halo series. It’s going to run to about 7 or 8 parts, but I promise, it’s totally worth a read. Shortly thereafter (and just to fill in a posting gap, I might add) I re-posted a lightly edited excerpt from my honours thesis, ‘Audiosurf – Breakfast of Champions’ which swiftly got picked up by Kieron Gillen of Rock Paper Shotgun in linked to in The Sunday Papers. The result was no less than 700 pageloads in the space of a few days. Just going off my own habits, I click through maybe one or two items in RPS’ Sunday Papers weekly, so if I’m at all indicative, their readership is probably quite easily in the 5,000-10,000 reader’s mark. And that’s just their more intellectual and less busy weekend post! Phwoar!

A number that big requires a brand new paragraph to get over, so lets finish the last part of December by mentioning that I was (to my own child like delight) included in Michael Abbott’s wonderful end of year gamers confab epic podcast of legendary proportions. That was an absolute blast to be on and a huge honour to be considered alongside some truly respectable bloggers. Not content to finish the year on such a self-congratulatory note, I then went and followed up with a second Gonzo journalism piece “Gonzo Pt 2 – Return of the Shark”, which was either brilliant or a spectacular failure. And, that’s the only way I’d want it. Look for more of same in early Oh-Nine. Toot-Toot! Last but not least and barely sneaking into 08, I finally got around to playing some more Spore and discussing (if ever so disdainfully) the procedural music in the game, with "Spore 'n' Eno".

Thanks for reading (or even glancing over), all you readers out there. You know who you are and I don’t (but apparently Feed Burner say’s there’s now 60+ of you! Where’d you all come from?!) so you’ll just have to give yourselves a pat on the back for discovering SLRC ‘before it jumped the Shark’. Onwards!, to Twenty-Oh-Nine with nary a backward glance and a slight ringing in the ears. Enjoy the New Year and please drink responsibly.