March 14, 2015 | 12:17 p.m.
THE PLAYER AUSTIN, Texas — Games are growing up fast. According to some estimates, the global expansion of the business has outpaced the film and television industries. Impressive, considering that this is a medium that’s only about 40 years old. “Anything with that kind of economic impact has to be studied,” said noted game designer and professor Warren Spector at a Saturday morning talk at the South by Southwest games festival in Austin, Texas. So why is it so hard for us to intelligently talk about games? And why has game criticism failed to elevate discussions about the medium so they’re on par with, say, cinema? Also, isn’t time we stopped thinking of games as toys? “People thought movies were trivial at one point, and now you can get a [film studies] PhD,” Spector said. “People thought that popular music […]
March 13, 2015 | 5:06 p.m.
THE PLAYER AUSTIN, Texas — At the South by Southwest games festival on Friday, three renowned industry artists and designers spoke about the challenges of working in games, specifically relating to the experience of being a woman in a male-dominated field. There were universal stresses. One spoke of the horror of bombing an interview. Another compared getting artists to work together as herding cats. Then Alison Carrier, a designer for Electronic Arts-owned mobile studio Red Crow Austin, brought up some less embarrassing and less humorous stories. She wanted to discuss two challenges. “The first one is how volatile the industry is,” she said on the afternoon panel. “I’ve had two studios shut down within three years. I’ve had to relocate to different states to stay in gaming.… Knowing that’s around the corner at any time is a hard thing to […]
March 13, 2015 | 4:55 p.m.
THE PLAYER AUSTIN, Texas — Today’s game-playing audience is split nearly 50/50 along gender lines, according to recent studies, and nearly 70% of those dedicated players are over 18. These findings by the Entertainment Software Assn. hardly jibe with the stereotype of the antisocial, video-game addicted teen. If anything, they point to a newfound diversity for a medium that was always thought to be strictly for adolescent males. But “GTFO,” a documentary premiering Monday at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, paints another picture, and it isn’t half as pretty. Women quoted in the film talk about receiving rape and death threats as if it’s a common, everyday occurrence. Former BioWare game writer Jennifer Brandes Hepler says she was once receiving up to 500 harassing emails per day, noting that she even found someone on a message board […]
March 13, 2015 | 4:09 p.m.
THE PLAYER AUSTIN, Texas — Video game conferences are places to wow with new tech – virtual reality headsets that may or may not become commonplace, or upcoming games boasting hi-def cinematics. But the South by Southwest games festival in Austin, Texas, began with a casual look back, celebrating in its Friday morning talks the everlasting influence of an early video game console, the Intellivision, as well as retired games from the ’80s and ’90s. There were laughs, such as a look at a little-known Japanese game like “Uncle Poo,” in which flatulence was power, and there were attempts to connect the days of old to the video game industry of today – and of the future. In separate talks, “Ready Player One” novelist Ernest Cline offered sci-fi visions of where we’re heading, and Intellivision President Keith Robinson spoke of the […]
March 11, 2015 | 6:00 a.m.
THE PLAYER “Ori and the Blind Forest” is an action game that feels like a tear-jerker. While it uses old video game conventions – run, jump, fire at things – its main character is an orphan whose adventures in a dying forest are backlighted by spare piano notes and a weepy violin. Even when punishing the player – and make no mistake, “Ori and the Blind Forest” is not an easy game – it does so with a gentle melancholy. It’s a dynamic that renders this indie title by Moon Studios a reflex test with an emotional core. The above is set in a world that’s so appealing, getting lost in it doesn’t seem all that bad of an outcome. The universe here appears lighted by glow sticks, its deep lush vistas shimmering in magical shades of purple, green and […]
March 10, 2015 | 7:36 a.m.
THE PLAYER Watch “House of Cards.” Get past the second season of “Game of Thrones.” Don’t miss “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” And you saw “True Detective,” right? Overwhelmed? Curious? I’m both. There’s simply not enough time to watch all that needs to be seen — or play all that needs to be watched. For all the talk of original television programming on Netflix, Hulu, Yahoo and now the PlayStation Network, there’s one narrative medium that’s been overlooked: games. Video-game consoles, long home to the streaming services of your choice, are now mass media hot spots. Which is why Sony’s launch Tuesday of “Powers,” its superhero cop series for members of its PlayStation Network, doesn’t seem overdue so much as anticlimactic. It’s a nice perk if you own a Sony video-game console but likely unnecessary when it comes to the machine’s mission to […]
March 06, 2015 | 4:08 p.m.
THE PLAYER In 1991, “ToeJam & Earl” brought hip-hop to video games. And then … not much happened with hip-hop in gaming. Despite the genre dominating pop charts for much of the following two decades, “ToeJam & Earl” remained an outlier. It’s the too-rare game that explores music and the culture surrounding it, and it does so with humor rather than violence. Consider it the missing interactive link between cosmic artists such as George Clinton and Janelle Monae. “ToeJam & Earl” features two fallen rapper aliens who traverse Earth looking for pieces of their broken spaceship. There are obstacles but nothing a little bass can’t handle. Players, for instance, blast enemies with beats from a boombox rather than with bullets. Now these two alien hip-hop heads are making a comeback. Greg Johnson, the game’s original designer and co-creator, has taken […]
March 05, 2015 | 2:32 p.m.
THE PLAYER A simple phrase at the outset of “White Night” sets this mood for this Depression-era thriller. “Times were worse than hard, and the bar was about to close.” The words come from a down-on-his-luck man, struggling like much of the United States was in 1938. He staggers to his car, a clearly unfortunate action the player has no control over, and kicks off the game when he crashes into a tree. What follows in “White Night,” available for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC, is a ghost story at its most cerebral. The man (we aren’t given a name) is in desperate need of medical care when he stumbles into a seemingly deserted mansion. We know this is a bad idea. The crumbling cemetery out front makes that clear, but worried times lead to bad decisions. Can […]
March 03, 2015 | 1:17 p.m.
THE PLAYER Nintendo’s Kirby returns with an adventure that turns players into amateur artists and a new mobile game spins snowboarding into one of the world’s most graceful sports. Below, a look at recent and recommended games. ‘Kirby and the Rainbow Curse’ Pink, puffy and potent, “Kirby and the Rainbow Curse” is Nintendo at its most aggressively cute. But just because Kirby looks like a piece of bubblegum, don’t write the veteran Nintendo character off as child’s play. Though Kirby hasn’t been around as long as his peers Mario or Donkey Kong, since introduced in the early ’90s he’s won a reputation as an experimental shape-shifter. Sometimes, Kirby has the power to inhale much larger foes. Other times, he can turn into a rocket. Then there was a time when Kirby was just a piece of yarn. Here, Kirby, still looking […]
Feb. 28, 2015 | 9:29 a.m.
THE PLAYER “The Order: 1886” wants to be a popcorn flick as badly as it does a video game. It’s a hybrid of interactive and cinematic techniques, putting forth the thesis that someday the two media will be intertwined. The game tells old tales — the Knights of the Round Table and werewolf-like creatures make appearances — and it does so with new twists, such as transporting the medieval and the supernatural to a technologically advanced Jack the Ripper-era London. But let’s back up. Within “The Order” is a gun. This gun is special. It fires a round of bullets that leave clouds of smoke, clouds that could be ignited into gloriously bright flames. “The Order” is a lot like this gun. It takes its aim — ambitiously so — and then blows it up. Often, this story of class […]