[Game: The Beginner’s Guide, Everything Unlimited Ltd., 2015]
The Intermediate’s Guide:

A Critique of the Repeatedly Self-destructive Metafictional Story of The Beginner’s Guide

 

Introduction:

The Beginner’s Guide is a peculiar project. In a nutshell, it’s a collection of small games and game concepts by a developer known as Coda, with an accompanying narration from the collection’s curator Davey Wreden. It has higher aspirations than merely being an anthology, however, as the voiceover presents a story about the narrator’s relationship to both the games being presented and the developer of those games.

This metanarrative touches on several worthwhile topics, including the interpretation of games (and art generally), the potential satisfaction or dissatisfaction of game development (and creativity generally), and what any art object may or may not be able to say about the creator of that art object. Along these lines, The Beginner’s Guide is deserving of some praise. It dares to push the envelope of what a game can be, and it does so in an experimental way that has proved fruitful in other media, especially in the past 200 years of literature and across most of the history of film.

But along essentially the same lines, the game is worthy of criticism as well. I have no way of expressing even the heading under which that criticism falls, however, without spoiling or even potentially ruining the experience of the game. So I’ll just spit out my usual warning, and then we’ll dig in: the nature of this article is such that it requires spoiling the plot of The Beginner’s Guide, so you should only continue reading after this paragraph if you either do not mind spoilers or you have already played the game.

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[Game: The Beginner’s Guide, Everything Unlimited Ltd., 2015]
The Intermediate’s Guide:

A Critique of the Repeatedly Self-destructive Metafictional Story of The Beginner’s Guide

was last modified: July 12th, 2021 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: Dead Space 2, Visceral Games, 2011]
Deadened Space:

How Small Elements of Design, Optimization, and Polish Combine to Diminish Dead Space 2

 

Introduction:

Despite its slightly more favorable reviews, among game analysts and longtime fans of the series Dead Space 2 is commonly considered to be a lesser work than the original Dead Space—a lesser work of horror as well as a lesser game in general.

But on first glance, it’s not remotely clear why anyone would hold that opinion. After all, nearly every element that hooked people into Dead Space, nearly every element that I praised in my own article on the game, remains present in the sequel: an engrossing and precisely tuned sound design, a plot that deftly blends sci-fi and body horror, a set of enemies who navigate through ductwork to ensure no space ever feels truly safe, a dismemberment-based fighting system that increases combat complexity while enhancing uncertainty regarding whether any given foe is deceased, a pacing that spaces out spans of tension with spans of relief, a combat system that straddles the line between being restrictive and being empowering, and an eschewing of a traditional HUD in favor of diegetic menus and indicators on and around the player-character’s suit.

Yet, for all that, I would still agree with those who feel there has been a slight slide down the scales of both horror quality and overall game quality from the first game to the second. After some careful consideration, I’ve come to a conclusion as to why this is. Frankly, I don’t think Dead Space 2 has any big, glaring problems that weigh it down. It remains a very solid follow-up to the original, and an entertaining, worthwhile experience. This is not a traditional review of the game, which would surely be much more favorable than what follows.

Dead Space 2 screenshot with puzzle solved in zero gravity - Visceral Games, comparison, review, analysis

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[Game: Dead Space 2, Visceral Games, 2011]
Deadened Space:

How Small Elements of Design, Optimization, and Polish Combine to Diminish Dead Space 2

was last modified: June 27th, 2021 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: Factorio, Wube Software, 2020]
Bug Hunt at Outpost Mine:

An Ecocritical Analysis of Wube Software’s Wildly Addictive Optimization Simulator Factorio

 

Introduction:

Any analysis of the relationship between the player-character and their environment in Factorio must begin with an acknowledgement that Factorio is a game that does considerably more to accurately depict the environmental impact of human industrial development than the vast majority of its peers in the simulation, management, strategy, and puzzle genres.

In Stardew Valley, for instance, not only do forests rapidly regrow and lakes never deplete of fish, but quarries, mines, and caves also replenish with stone and ore from day to day. Similarly, while Infinifactory does periodically foreground topics like mining, exploitation, and waste in its story and puzzle design—it nevertheless provides an infinite supply of inputs that can be accelerated or decelerated at will, even when those inputs are living creatures. Even games like Terraria and Minecraft, which go so far as to represent resource acquisition as a zero sum game, nevertheless depict all processing, combining, and consuming of those resources as a pollution-free, byproduct-free non-zero sum game.

By contrast, in Factorio, resources are finite; resources don’t always combine cleanly into singular products; pollution results from production; and pollution has consequences for both the world and the player. Nevertheless, despite its demonstrable steps in the right direction, Factorio preserves a great many of the negative practical and psychological trends embodied by such optimization- and development-focused titles. In fact, it is precisely because Factorio does so much to emphasize the topics of resource scarcity and pollution that its weaknesses in the realm of environmentalism shine so brightly.

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[Game: Factorio, Wube Software, 2020]
Bug Hunt at Outpost Mine:

An Ecocritical Analysis of Wube Software’s Wildly Addictive Optimization Simulator Factorio

was last modified: April 16th, 2021 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: Spelunky 2, Mossmouth, 2020]
Motivations to Spelunk:

On Spelunky 2, and Three Corruptible Virtues of Implementing Achievements for Games

 

Introduction:

This essay begins with a confession, one that feels on-par with admitting that one collects rocks or baseball cards or a similarly useless class of artifacts: I like achievements. In games that I am already enjoying, I actively make an effort to get achievements provided it does not impede that preexisting enjoyment. In fact, far from being impediments, I have often found that certain types of achievements lead to goals and playstyles that enhance the experience of a game. And if nothing else, purposefully attaining 100% achievement completion for a game can be a method of paying tribute to a game of exceptional quality—or of feeling that one has reached a satisfactory conclusion in otherwise endless affairs like roguelikes, arcade-style games, or even normal linear games that one can not seem to cease replaying.

In this article, I shall be covering the three clearest ways that achievements can be used for potential gains in terms of player experience and engagement. My main example in making this argument shall be Spelunky 2, as I believe that it and its predecessor represent nearly perfect implementations of achievements across all three categories to be covered.

The garden of achievements, however, is not filled exclusively with roses. There are a great many weeds and poisonous herbs to be found growing there. Achievements are often an afterthought, tacked onto a game by weary developers at the end of long projects, and—even when implemented with intention—may nevertheless include tedious, unappealing, or even exploitative goals. Thus, in each section of this article, after presenting the possible virtues of each prominent achievement type (with reference to Spelunky 2), I will also cover the vices and corruptions to which each type is vulnerable (with accompanying examples from other titles).

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[Game: Spelunky 2, Mossmouth, 2020]
Motivations to Spelunk:

On Spelunky 2, and Three Corruptible Virtues of Implementing Achievements for Games

was last modified: February 10th, 2021 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: Jak II, Naughty Dog, 2003]
Jak, Too:

Extolling the Virtues of Naughty Dog’s Second Jak & Daxter Title via an Unintuitive Analogy

 

Introduction:

For about a decade after I originally played it, Jak II was my favorite game. In the run up to its release back in 2003, I spent over a month convincing my parents (especially my violent-media-averse mother) that it would be alright for me to purchase the game, despite the fact that it would be rated ‘T for Teens’ and I would not quite yet be a teenager.

My ironclad arguments included that I had already played the T-rated games Ratchet & Clank and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4; that Jak doesn’t get access to guns until partway through the game; that the enemies in Jak II simply vanish without any blood when killed; and that I had already completed its E-rated predecessor, Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy. Ultimately, I doubt my folks were swayed by any of those arguments. Rather, they probably relented because I was almost a teen anyway, and I had demonstrated so extensively and so annoyingly the depth of my desire to play it.

In fact, I had not simply completed Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy. I had one hundred percented it. And the game did not reward that effort with a chunk of additional gameplay, as had titles that I had previously one hundred percented (such as the entries in the original Spyro trilogy); instead, it simply provided a short, cryptic cutscene lightly teasing the inciting incident of Jak II. This may go some way to justifying my eagerness to play the sequel. Nevertheless, when I did finally get my hands on it, I was astonished by the quality of the game.

Jak II screenshot with piloting zoomer in slums - Naughty Dog, retrospective analysis, analogy, comparison

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[Game: Jak II, Naughty Dog, 2003]
Jak, Too:

Extolling the Virtues of Naughty Dog’s Second Jak & Daxter Title via an Unintuitive Analogy

was last modified: June 15th, 2021 by Daniel Podgorski