Month: August 2014

Game Gallery: SUPERMOONS by Lana Polansky

Welcome to a new video feature on Abnormal Mapping: Game Gallery. The idea behind Game Gallery is that on certain sundays, we’ll take a look at a small or experimental game from a game maker we find interesting, and show off a short piece of impressions and our experience with the game. The aim is to create a small series of games that we wish to highlight, that are often ignored and overlooked, and bring our impressions to you.

SUPERMOONS by Lana Polansky: http://lanathegun.itch.io/supermoons

Support Lana Polansky on Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/LanaPolansky

Become an Artist in Just 10 Seconds by Michael Brough and Andi McClure:
http://www.ludumdare.com/compo/ludum-dare-27/?action=preview&uid=4987

Roses Creator by Titouan Millet:
http://evilion.itch.io/roses-creator

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Abnormal Mapping 13: Skeletal Trust Issues

The day they thought would never happen is finally here. The clockwork machinery of the gods themselves rolled away and revealed a blinding light, from which poured a host of a host of creatures both fair and foul. All of that number were beyond mortal understanding, but they all cried out with a single human voice: YOU WERE WRONG, MATTHEW. And so it was, that as the seas boiled and the sun and moon reversed their paths through the firmament, did these two Mappers set out to admit this final damning truth, even if the planes be rent asunder forever and all lives both player-driven and peripheral be cast into the deepest of voids. Such is the One True Cast.

Please subscribe, rate and review our show on iTunes! If that’s not your bag, you can get the episode directly by clicking HERE.

This Month’s Game

Planescape: Torment

Next Month’s Game

RollerCoaster Tycoon 2

Music in This Episode

Blown Away by Kevin McLeod
Deionarra’s Theme by Mark Morgan and Richard Band
Fall-From-Grace’s Theme by Mark Morgan and Richard Band
Opening Theme by Mark Morgan and Richard Band

The Intimate as Public Display: On Let’s Plays

Note: We just posted a full list of all of our current videos with some summaries over on this page here. I decided to take the opportunity to talk about why I’m doing let’s plays in the first place.  

So if you’ve been listening to the most recent few podcasts, I’ve been talking in the early segments about the acquisition of a new computer, and how I’ve been using that as a means to get me into making more videos. It’s been a long time coming—my last computer was a middle of the road gaming PC when I built it five years ago. All it was meant to do was to replace my even more ancient and rickety laptop and to run the one game I was interested in five years ago: Star Trek Online. Hilarious, that lasted about three weeks (most of which, if I remember correctly, was taken up with the early access to pre-orderers), because MMOs and my tastes don’t mix.

But the computer served long past its usefulness date, even as it chugged increasingly. It was where I discovered Mass Effect and Dragon Age, where I built my first game and recorded my first podcasts, it was where I created more than one website and lived whole internet lifetimes. And now it’s gone, and I’m onto the newer, better thing. Capitalism, technological Darwinism, and the slow march of time and death are all the victors here. I love having new technology, but I can’t help but consider the whole parade of acquisition and excitement sad at the same time I invest in it.

That said, I’m most excited because it allows me to really start doing the thing I’ve wanted to do for some time: let’s plays. Those ubiquitous video nuggets of cultural errata, let’s plays are something of a nadir in modern video game critical culture. They’re endlessly entertaining to wide audiences as games-as-performance, but they’ve so far been mostly mired in discussions of journalistic integrity, monetization and copyright nightmares, and the general socioeconomic class war between games critics and games players, who seem in an average body to be drifting ever apart in terms of tastes and habits. Let’s plays are the new populism, and as such receive a lot of hostility (especially since many of the biggest names in the form are … divisive, to say the least). It is, to understate the complex issues of the day, a bit of a clustercuss.

I love let’s plays, though. I remember when video games on the internet were just intricate FAQs and message board threads, and the idea of a lengthy video series on anything was impossible. Then, seemingly overnight, you could find video about anything in the world, and for intrepid netizens with more than a little curiosity about those little curiosities, it was easy to get lost looking at video of games you’d only heard in rumor or never felt capable of approaching yourself. For me, it was a mixture of Silent Hill let’s plays, speedruns of Metroid games, and trying to figure out just how the hell that strange sandbox game called Minecraft worked that led me into the world of watching people video games on the internet.

My fondest feelings are very specific to let’s plays, though. I can watch and enjoy a stream, for sure. And I spent many years finding weird new games through Quick Looks and the like. But it’s the simple act of one person talking over one game in a singular moment in time that I’ve really cottoned to. There’s plenty of reasons for that, among which is my general distaste of chats in general and the focus on personalities and crowd interaction. So streaming is out. Quick Looks are, by their nature, trying to be entertaining and informative first, an infomercial run by buffoons that’s meant to tell you enough to get your foot in the door on understanding. It’s entertaining, but that audience is being served. Let’s plays, though, when done well, are the condensed crystal of the diffuse experience of what it means to interact with a game. There’s a person, there’s what they bring to the table, and there’s how the game and they interact to form an experience and impressions.

And I’m not talking about playing a character into a webcam, I’m talking about a person giving you the unaltered feed of their own insight as they interact with a form of media. Video games, more than any other form of this, are the only real type of art that has the rhythms and quiet spaces that allow someone to fill it with their own experience as it’s happening and not step completely on the art itself. Because games are systemic loops, and because so much of games is built on the foundation of giving you challenges and signposts to process and overcome and analyze, the very act of playing a game is one of constructing an internal schema associated with the game and trying to fit the two together again and again as you attempt to bring them into alignment to not only progress, but to enjoy the game at all.

The interactive nature of games isn’t just about making you force along a series of events, but instead it’s about forcing the player to nudge their own default state into new configurations in order to connect with the games at all. In a simple instance, a puzzle game such as Portal asks you to reconsider your knowledge of physics in order to solve challenges. More abstractly, Hate Plus is a game that offers no actual challenges, but asks that you use the rough edges and open questions of the world you’re interacting with to snag on the parts of your own internal bubble of awareness, stretching what you consider and filling new exciting spaces and maybe even opening a few psychic wounds in an effort to increase your experiential awareness if you’re cognizant of how it is poking at your state of being as you play it. All games, deep down, are incomplete jigsaw puzzles, frames asking a player to come along and fill the missing pieces with themselves, and whether or not its an ill fit or a perfect fit, the actual artistic merit of any game is in how that fit does or doesn’t happen when you try to marry the game and the player.

What does this have to do with let’s plays? Well, if that’s what games inherently are, then providing a record of that is how we can respond to the medium. Games are almost always a performative piece of art—it won’t actually do anything unless someone is playing it. Thus, it’s only through the act of witnessing someone engaging with the game itself that we can see a game as a true living work of art. A game without a player is half-complete, and playing is more than just achieving the goals needed to progress in most games. It’s a much more complicated activity, as I said above, full of ambiguities and nuance unique to each player that comes across the game’s framework and begins to meld with it in their own unique way. Let’s plays just add a single layer of formalization to the process, far less than the several layers of a review or a critical piece of writing: the player is giving you live stream of consciousness as the interaction is taking place, and hopefully bringing honesty and earnestness and a sense of their own self into the work to create criticism as an act of emotion and instinct as much as it is an act of intellectualism. It happens right there, in the space where you play something and respond to it and then have to talk about how you feel and why because the microphone is rolling.

That’s why I’m making way more videos than I am writing words these days. I’m not quite where I want to be, and it’s certainly a skill that has to be learned and worked on, but to me let’s plays are in many ways the only true distillation of a person’s experience with a game. Writing is one thing, a thing I enjoy and appreciate, but the let’s play form is something much more vulnerable. In recording the actual moments of interaction, you get everything: the good and bad, the enthralling and the dull, the silly and the painful. You’re brought into someone’s inner world as they expose that often hidden mental landscape to the possibility of change and influence that games in their systemic complexity demand we do to really engage with them. Documenting that process, without a chat and without an explicit character to inhabit or a ‘show’ one is putting on, is a performance art in its own right. Let’s plays are video games. If done right, they can be the most honest reflection of what it means to care about and experience this medium. And that’s why I’m trying to create more let’s plays.

Let’s Play: Blackwell Epiphany

Rosangela Blackwell and Joey Mallone have been saving the ghosts of New York City so long they’re on the police payroll. Well, it’s under the table, but it keeps the lights on. But in this final adventure saving wayward ghosts isn’t enough, as spirits are torn apart and the full Blackwell legacy in unraveled.

The Blackwell Series is a five-part adventure game story by game creator Dave Gilbert. You can (and should) pick them up on Steam or at wadjeteyegames.com.

Let’s Play: Blackwell Deception

Rosangela Blackwell has taken her ghost-saving business public and now travels New York taking on clients who need her to help pass on wayward spirits. But ghost hunting isn’t exactly a boom market and Rosa continues to struggle to make ends meet, even as she navigates her developing abilities and her often tumultuous relationship with her familial ghost Joey Malone.

Blackwell Deception is an adventure game by Dave Gilbert and the fourth in the Blackwell series of games. You can find it on Steam or at Dave’s website wadjeteyegames.com.

Let’s Play: Planescape Torment

Matt’s been knocking things out of the park recently with his Let’s Plays recently, so it’s Jackson’s turn to try out a video series Unfortunately, technical issues and other such happenstance leave this somewhat of a failed experiment, and the LP does end half way through the game, but there’s enough good material that it’s being kept up for you to enjoy the first half of the adventures of The Nameless One and Friends!

Planescape Torment was a game club game, if you enjoy any of this LP, you can listen listen to our discussion HERE. It’s a fantastic game and we had so much to say.

Abnormal Mapping 12: Captain Worf, Steak Afficianado

Matt braves audio failure as Jackson drags him kicking and screaming through another Coolsoge adventure. After many many weeks between them, the Mappers have a pile of games they’ve finished and the dimmest of memories with which to recall them, but they do their best to talk about various driving and skating games, the terror of suplexing scorpions, and some Donkey Kong follow-up beef. Vows are made to cast the Coolsoge more often and they pour one out for the machete man gang, but eventually it all collapses into Star Trek talk, because it always does when Matt and Jackson are talking longer than 15 minutes. Featuring special guest Worf, son of Mogh, it’s the second Coolsoge onslaught!

You can find the Coolsoge Cast in our usual iTunes feed or click HERE to get to the file directly.

Stuff Talked About!

Trashpect Ratio, Jackson and Matt’s new movie podcast
The Abnormal Mappers on The Badland Girls
Matt’s Blackwell Let’s Plays
Jackson’s article about Uncharted
Jackson’s other article about the Burnout series

Games Covered (some spoilers, fair warning!)

Resident Evil 4
The Blackwell Series
Uncharted 3
Deadly Creatures
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (all of them)
Thrasher: Skate and Destroy
Papo y Yo
Burnout 3 & Revenge
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Fire Emblem: Awakening
Persona 4 Golden (and Persona 5)
Mass Effect
Star Trek Online
Outland
Rogue Legacy
Nintendo 3DS Guide: Louvre
bit Generations series

Music Used

Show Your Moves by Kevin MacLeod
Skate or Die 2 Main Theme by Rob Hubbard
Star Trek: The Next Generation Theme by Jerry Goldsmith by way of the NES Sound Chip
Busted Bayou by David Wise