games

Abnormal Mapping 56: Does Tom Nook Own the People?

finalfantasyvi_scene_dream_opera_by_yoshitaka_amano

Today we’re rejoined by regular guest and former co-host Destiny Sturdivant for a romp through one of the most storied RPGs of all time. Please enjoy, have a good holiday if you celebrate it, and try to be kind and healthy in these trying times.

You can get our podcast on iTunes, on Stitcher, or you can download it directly by clicking here.

Things Discussed: Animal Crossing: New Leaf, The Witcher, Thumper, NBA2k17, Presbo, Sombra, Final Fantasy VI, the US FF6 commercial, the horniest character in video games, best birthdays in video games, being in the new games bubble, Idle Thumbs 288 about Titanfall 2, The Great Goal Pole in Super Mario 3D World 

This Month’s Game Club: Final Fantasy VI

Next Month: MUSIC and GOTY

Songs in This Episode
Omen by Nobuo Uematsu
Blown Away by Kevin MacLeod
Aria di Mezzo Carattere by Nobuo Uematsu
Coin Song by Nobuo Uematsu
Dancing Mad by Nobuo Uematsu

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A Reaction To FIFA 17’s Story Mode, or “Why I Miss Ace Combat, Damn It”

aaaThis year, FIFA has a story mode. It’s fine. The story is incredibly basic, the presentation is overwrought and draws on all of my least favourite trends in modern filmmaking, but it’s mostly competent and provides a nice structure to the game of Playing The Football for those of us unwilling to sell off our belongings and invest heavily in virtual trading cards. Fans of the genre. 7/10.

It’s nothing to write home about, much less an article about, but the entire time I played I couldn’t shake the feeling that this mode could be a lot better in the future, if only they’d learn some storytelling lessons from Ace Combat.

Ace Combat 6 is a masterclass in how to draw a narrative throughline through a game that has very little explicit narrative in its mission design. There are big moments that occur in missions (re-taking Gracemeria, the night-time stealth run, the final boss), but for the most part the missions involve loading a map and taking out the required number of targets until the bar fills and you can fly on home. The bulk of the narrative is delivered through cutscenes which follow civilian characters, placing your war into a wider human context, and in-mission dialogue, which place your individual actions within a single battle into a wider military context. You – Garuda 1 – are never given a name or voice, and your actions are rarely commented on beyond which army is winning the battle. The guiding principle of each and every narrative element is to make you feel as if you are part of something bigger.

FIFA 17: The Journey (yes, it’s really called that) is the exact opposite, in every single way. Major beats are delivered within cutscenes, but narrative texture is built through the commentary team within the match. If you play badly, the commentary team say you have been playing badly. If you have a fight with your friend, the commentary film say you have had a fight with your friend. If a team-mate scores, the commentary team… say the exact stock thing they say when anyone else scores. It belies an incredibly myopic worldview, prevalent within western AAA game design, where narrative is little more than a way to re-enforce the fact that the player has absoloute agency over the world. You do a thing, the game says “wow, they did a thing,” and this is known as immersion.

It’s a real shame, because the approach ultimately feels dishonest not just to the story but the concept of the game as a whole. Football is a team sport, and tying this to a narrative in which The Player rules supreme and their every action has consequence, makes about as much sense as West Brom beating Real Madrid. (Which they did. In their third game. In a packed stadium in Seattle.)

All that said, I’m glad that Sports Games are beginning to experiment with narrative. I’d play them a heck of a lot more if they just shoved a well written visual novel in there a la Dancing All Night. But given that they by far represent the most successful genre of game that isn’t centred around a combination of violence and individual acquisition, it would be a shame for their storytelling to fall into all the same, sad traps.

Abnormal Mapping 45: Octogenarian Lunarian

FF4 Cover Final

Welcome to another fantastic edition in the internet’s favourite Tella fan club podcast. This month, we’re counting down our top ten Tella moments, and we’re asking our audience the million dollar question: what would you do… with that much MP? Tella all your friends, and rate comment and subscribe!

EDITORS NOTE: we are not fans of Tella or his Moon Dwelling Counterpart and never shall be. The host responsible for implying such a thing has been reprimanded appropriately and regrets their words and deeds. Please enjoy this Tella-free discussion of Final Fantasy IV. Thank you.

You can get our podcast on iTunes, on Stitcher, or you can download it directly by clicking here.

Things Discussed: Ben Kuchera’s boob controller, booby Vita ad, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Jackson’s thoughts on Season 2 of The Walking Dead, 10000000, Hatsune Miku Project Mirai DX, David Letterman Miku, Wossy, Final Fantasy IV, Legends of Localization breakdown of FF4 script differences, Final Fantasy IV’s two different logos, M’s Final Fantasy XIII breakdown via LP

This Month’s Game Club: Final Fantasy IV

Next Month’s Game Club: Lili: Child of Geos

Music This Episode
Blown Away by Kevin McLeod
Main Theme of Final Fantasy IV by Nobuo Uematsu
Theme of Love by Nobuo Uematsu
Battle with the Four Fiends by Nobuo Uematsu

Abnormal Mapping 41: The Shaven Wookie

Extend Cover Rev Final

The Mappers begin the new year with a new podcast about a new video game! There’s no such thing as too much new, as we delve deep into new characters, new shapes, and new possiblities with some new artwork and some new laughs. We also induct new things into the reading list. New. New new new. Please enjoy this new podcast, and maybe let friends (new ones, but old ones too I guess) know, so that they can be new listeners in this new era.

Meatloaf, Pure Pool, The Witcher, Animal Crossing, Shaven Wookie, Destiny, Mass Effect, Beyond: Two Souls, City of Heroes, Star Trek Online, The Sims, Saints Row, Miis, GTA IV, Sleeping Dogs, I am Become Rihanna, the Destroyer of Worlds, The Natural, Expand, When Two Best Friends Make Video Games, CS Go 1.7 Beta, games for children, the “Tears in the Rain” Blade Runner speech, Minecraft LPs, the car story from the Beastcast

You can get our podcast on iTunes, on Stitcher, or you can download it directly by clicking here.

Reading List Inductees:
Psychology of Video Games
Friends at the Table
Monster Factory

This Month’s Game Club Game: Expand

Next Month’s Game Club Game: Ninja Gaiden Black

Music This Episode
Blown Away by Kevin MacLeod
Mii Channel by Kazumi Totaka
Closure by Christopher Larkin
Slide by Etch Music
Busy Earnin’ by Jungle

Top 10! Tony Hawk’s Games – Part Two

Tony Hawk

Welcome to Top Ten!

In the first week after the publication of part oneTony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5, was released and by any reasonable measurement is the franchise’s tragic husk that would be best kept out of sight. This predictable disappointment brought up some references to the original series, games which are older and canonized to the point which their nostalgic reputation has in many ways become truth. (Watch this Cameron Kunzelman video for an exploration of this phenomenon!)

In the second week after the publication of part one, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 has already been forgotten. So inevitable, so unremarkable and so dull was the nature of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5‘s failure that it has all but faded away from the ruthless discourse that is Games Twitter Zeitgeist. Which is on the one hand great because it means folks have been talking about interesting games like Undertale, else Heart.Break() and Read Only Memories. On the other, it’s a shame to see this series in such dire straights, without at least going back to reconsider the truth of what it was for nine years, rather than the vague truth that it was better before.

With that in mind, I wanted to go back and play through the Tony Hawk’s series, documenting its highs and lows, diving into just what it is that makes a Hawk a Hawk. It’s been eight years since a real, honest to god Tony Hawk game has been released, and it’s important to consider these old games as real things to be played and engaged with, not just as memories of better times, even when times right now, are, well…

So here we go! If you’ve not read part one, feel free to do so first, otherwise we’re tackling the five best Tony Hawk’s games and we’re tackling them right now. (more…)

Abnormal Mapping 36: The Othered Man in Hat

Framed05

A dark night in the bright city. Jackson dashes down an alleyway, a shadow looming behind him. He clutches the attache case close to his chest as he squeezes past a dumpster and into a space that would generously be described as snug for even the overfed cats that dine on the garbage nearby. Matthew’s close behind, reaching into the tiny space up to their elbow to reach after Jackson, unable to go any further. Growling, they climb up the dumpster, leaping onto the lowest rungs of the fire escape as they use the window to get into the hallway of the building Jackson is squeezing past. As they leap down the steps two at a time, they don’t see the slender cane extend between the bars of the railing until it’s too late, and their’s sprawled out on the cold tile floor of the foyer of the building.

Destiny emerges from behind the stairs, nudging Matthew’s arm aside with her cane as she steps outside, just to see Jackson emerge from the alleyway and stop to look behind him for pursuit. It’s a distraction he can ill afford. He doesn’t even feel the needle slip under his skin, he just feels himself sag against the wall as Destiny steps up beside him and removes the case from his now flaccid hands. “Thanks,” she says. “It’s game over for you, though.”

She turns to walk away, Jackson gasping trying to yell after her, his knees buckling as he falls back into the alleyway, and both of them disappear back into the bustle of the city.

You can get our podcast on iTunes, on Stitcher, or you can download it directly by clicking here.

This Month’s Game Club: Framed

October’s Game Club: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

Games Discussed: The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Tomorrow Never Dies, Morning Mario Returns!, Civilization V, Three Beers Deep, our conversation with Lana Polansky, Framed, Hideo Kojima’s tweet, Angry Birds, Boom Blox, Doctor Who, Grim Fandango

Music This Episode
Blown Away by Kevin MacLeod
Baba Yetu by Christopher Tin
Framed Soundtrack by Adrian Moore
The Fragrance of Dark Coffee by Noriyuki Iwadare
Kapp’n’s Song by Shohei Tsuchiya

Top 10! Tony Hawk’s Games – Part One

Tony Hawk'sDo you know what this website has been missing? Lists! And it’s about time someone came in and fixed that, the someone specifically being me, who is writing this one now. For as besmirched as they so often are, I think lists are actually a really valuable form of writing, especially within accessible criticism. And since a big thing we’re trying to do with Abnormal Mapping is make it a website that can be enjoyed by those who don’t keep up with the ins and outs of games culture or writing, I’m gonna try to write lists on this website which serve as an entry point into critically considering a certain topic.

Today, we’re tackling the Tony Hawk’s games. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 is on the horizon, in what seems like the most half-hearted possible bid to make Tony Hawk relevant once more. It’s being positioned in a similar way that every Sonic game was between Sonic 06 and Sonic Generations, as a nostalgic return to form which caters to most people’s early experience with the series. As someone who played those games every year upon release for seven years, I think “it’s like the good ol’ ones!” is a really unfair way of approaching a series that has been far more varied and vibrant than that. It deserves a little more respect and a little bit of a closer look, which is what we’re going to give it today!

So join me, as I take you on a journey from worst to best, and we take a look at just what makes the Birdman good, what makes the Hawkman bad, and just why we should even care at all. I ended up writing a lot about these games, which won’t surprise anyone, so today we’re tackling the first five games in the list, and next time we’ll have the grand conclusion to the video game tale of Anthony Frank Hawk.

Take it away…
(more…)

A&I: Keeping Going

A&ISo, my computer broke.

It didn’t break all at once, and it didn’t break catastrophically, but break it most definitely did. I rummaged around inside, replaced a power supply unit, and did the best that I could to bring it to a functional level. Yet whilst I can turn it off and on now, making it a marked improvement on before, it is still very much a broken machine.

I think about that often, the fact that we invest so much into this medium which relies on our broken machines. The economic investment to even afford the technology required to interact with videogames is staggering by any reasonable standards for artistic engagement. That even the tiny games I play for this article cause my computer to overheat and strain demonstrates a clear lack of focus on sustainability and ease of access. Unity is a fantastic tool, and does much to make game making more accessible, but as an engine, it’s so often poorly optimised for any less than ideal hardware situation. There is so much fantastic work being done by individual game makers as a means of combating games culture’s techno fetishistic obsession with forward progress, but when even the tools they build with spring from that harmful cultural well, can we ever really fight against the tide? (more…)

Super Splaturday

splatoon

Splatography by Dylan Schneider

“I’m in if you’re in,” I said, and that was that. Matt drove out to Target before it shut, and I set my alarm to wake me up at nine in the morning, so I could walk into town in time to pick up my copy of Splatoon. Neither of us had any real drive to play it beforehand, but it only took us about an hour of joint enabling until we made the decision. It cost more money than I set aside for two weeks (I’m really poor these days, blame David Cameron), but I figured that even if it ended up being a bad decision in the long term, it would be worthwhile to get in on the ground floor and enjoy the first weekend of a game’s life.

We played a lot of Splatoon the next day.

(more…)

Abnormal Mapping 26: Blend Till Non-Litigious

elegy

The Mappers deal with the loss of technology and hope in the only way they know how: deep existential crisis and how it informed criticism. Good thing they’ve finally stumbled across a game that is willing to compete with them for who can be the most fatalistic, even if it means doubling down on prescriptive ideas of what educational/artistic games should be. Also, we talk about lore for almost a half an hour and nobody makes a Star Trek joke, so it’s all a minor miracle today in this post-computer episode of this post-computer podcast.

You can get our podcast on iTunes, on Stitcher, or you can download it directly by clicking here.

This Month’s Game Club: Elegy for a Dead World

Next Month? TBD, sorry!

Games Discussed: Elegy for a Dead World, Pokemon Art Academy, Rock Band, Resident Evil HD, Even The Stars, Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2, Skyrim, Dragon Age: Origins, Dishonored, Alan Wake, Final Fantasy XIII-2, Battlefield: Hardline, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, Dark Souls

Music This Episode
Blown Away by Kevin McLeod
Game Over from Sega Rally Championship
Rock the Dragon by Shuki Levy and Kussa Mahehi
Wicked Child by Kinoyu Yamashita
All I Want by Offspring