Analyzing Video Game Sequels

[Arthur Kabrick’s post at GamrFeed]( is an interesting exercise in data mining. I think it would be interesting to take his idea further and analyze the prose of the reviews as well.

“Wield Your Attention”

Leigh Alexander, a regular writer over at Gamasutra, has an interesting report of an interview with Wolfgang Hammersmith. Hammersmith is Vietnam War veteran who went on to do some Black Ops work — I guess as part of his career in the Marines. He now has a book out, Beyond The Call Of Duty: Gunfight!. Smith, who regularly questions the violent dimension of many video games, draws some interesting points out of Hammersmith, including the following:

A key tenet of Hammersmith’s tactical lessons doesn’t even require a weapon in hand: “Wield your attention,” he advises, elaborating in his book on how crucial it is for individuals to be able to control the sphere of their focus, dealing with immediate circumstances and with a wide-lens view of their environment in a more total fashion. It’s advice that can be applied directly to gun combat, or can be taken abstractly as philosophy and metaphor.

The interview is here.

“Wipeout” (the game) Recreated with RC Car

Using the Arduino board, a Dutch group has built themselves a cardboard track, a remote-controlled car — with a video camera, and used an old arcade game as a controller to recreate the PlayStation game “Wipeout” in the real world. At one point during the interview, one of the creators remarks that a lot of people have a hard time connecting what they see on the controller monitor and what is happening on the track. Are we so used to thing happening on television having no connection to reality? It would be an interesting thought experiment for a humanities class.

Here’s the link to the project’s Vimeo page, which should work for non-Flash devices. (I believe Vimeo offers HTML5 support.) And here’s the embedded player version:

A Tantrix Game


Perhaps you’ve heard of Tantrix, a game of sturdy hexagonal tiles that in its solo version encourages you to try to make loops of increasing difficulty or in its official competitive version pits you against one or more opponents to see who can make the longest line.

As is our wont, nothing stops my daughter and I from taking interesting game objects and put them to different uses. (I believe this practice began when I couldn’t remember what the official rules were for marbles, which wouldn’t have done me or her any good since she, at three years of age, wasn’t a very good shot and I wasn’t much better.)

Our version of the game is just as fun and offers some interesting possibilities: the purpose of the game is to score the most points and play proceeds thusly:

1. Play begins by one player drawing from the bag of tiles a tile that will be the starting tile.
2. The first player to play then draws from the bag and places the tile along one of the starting tile’s edges — this is relatively easy, and in fact, connecting a tile to a single edge of another tile will always be easy, only it won’t score you many points.
3. Play proceeds with each player drawing a tile and then playing it to the expanding group of tiles. Players score one point for connecting to a single edge, two points for scoring to two edges, three points for three edges, and so on. (We are considering squaring this number to increase the incentive for going for more edges, as well as to increase the penalty for failing to do so, but our games are mostly cooperative and “for fun” for now — she’s only five years old after all!)
4. Play proceeds until you run out of tiles. Add up your points and there you have it.

We’ve talked about changing the game so that players draw a “hand” of tiles so that they can set themselves up for “big plays” of multiple points, but we are not there yet in our game play to try that.

Read the Novel, *then* Play the Game

I’m a little late to the party, and I haven’t read the novel nor have I played the game. (Our home PC isn’t up to the task just yet.) But I did just finish reading the review for _Mass Effect: Revelation_ the novel that came out in June 2007 and the review for the game _Mass Effect_ which came out in October 2007.

Yes, once upon a time, films were renditions of novels or short stories. Then, later, in the wake of a (or “the” for some) blockbuster _Star Wars_, novels were commissioned after a successful vehicle was established. Where movies blazed the trail, games followed, and so we already have a trilogy of novels set in the _Halo_ universe. (The notion of a “story universe” is something that I think the science fiction genre established rather early on, but I could be wrong and would love to hear from anyone who has a better sense of the history.) It is indeed the case that _Mass Effect_ was conceived first as a game, but in an effort to help build up interest in the game — so, a form of marketing — and in an effort to provide more backstory in order to make game play more interesting, the game’s makers commissioned a novel to precede the game. Not a prequel after the fact, but a prequel before the fact. (Imagine that.)

To my mind, this opens up a *huuuuge* new and fascinating landscape for fiction. (I hate the term “storytelling” if only because it gets not only over-used but often misused. Not everything is telling a story. Sometimes you’re describing. Sometimes you’re arguing. Please, let’s not confuse everything because it’s fun to say, or safe to say, you’re telling a story.) In this landscape, or network or nexus or whatever, you can allow each medium to do what it does best. Literary texts are often the best way to provide a rich description or provide a backstory — why else does voiceover work so well in so many flashbacks? Game play is great for immersive action. The same goes for audio, video, and images. It’s all so cool. I can’t wait to beef up the home PC and take a crack at the game, but I’ll be sure to read the book first…