The 1980s were a good time for video games, a period of innovation when many of the medium’s biggest franchises were born. Mario Bros. introduced its iconic plumbing siblings to the world in 1983. In 1986 Legend of Zelda allowed gamers to adventure like never before.
Slightly less heralded but no less influential was Hironobu Sakaguchi’s role-playing game Final Fantasy, released in 1987. Over the years, the series has proved that video games can be a powerful, immersive tool for storytelling. With 14 main installments and millions of copies sold since its inception, a generation of gamers (and of game makers) has grown up with the richly detailed worlds that Sakaguchi and game design firm Square have created.
Yet in recent years, the series has lost much of its relevance. Several critics have declared the death of Final Fantasy. The release of a new game in the franchise no longer generates the fervor it once did, and the field of competitors is much stronger than it once was. But with a return to the franchise’s roots, Final Fantasy could regain its edge just when the gaming industry needs it most. And surprisingly, Lightning Returns: FFXIII, the lukewarmly received “triquel” to Final Fantasy XIII, could be the first step in turning things around.
Read more. [Image: Square Enix]
Why playing stupid games staves off existential despair
In The Sims, the best-selling PC game of all time,you play people’s lives. At least initially, there’s not much of a plot. Instead, there are houses and pets and people (and sometimes colleges and vacations and time travelers). You guide your guileless Sims through showering, eating, and eeking out an existence.
Wikipedia classifies it as a “strategic life simulation game,” which is possibly the best genre title ever.
As is already clear, The Sims’ verisimilitude is kind of funny. Lots of situations come up where its straightforwardness is ridiculous. One of these—as the gaming blog Kotaku pointed out last week— is that it has superb software update notes.
Read more. [Image: The Sims/EA]
The loss was no aberration. Since January 2009, Nintendo stock has lost 65 percent of its value. Things are only getting worse: At Kotaku, the writer Stephen Totilo has declared 2014 the company’s toughest year ever.
That might be the case.
I, however, have a solution that will save the company if not the world economy. It is:
Nintendo should port old Pokémon games to iOS.
Why should they do this? Because it will be great. But also: Because everyone will buy it.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
But more than 40 percent correctly identified it as a virtual currency in a new Bloomberg poll.
If you’ve read Thomas Pynchon latest novel, Bleeding Edge, and played around in the virtual world Second Life, you will come away convinced that Pynchon spent time in SL.
And today, a new document leaked by Edward Snowden and reported by ProPublica show that spies from the nation’s intelligence apparatus also spent time in Second Life (and massively multiplayer online games like World of Warcraft).
In fact, there were so many spies “hunting around in Second Life,” the document noted, that “a ‘deconfliction” group was needed to avoid collisions.”
Second Life’s chief technology officer, Cory Ondrejka, even gave a presentation at the NSA. (He’s now the director of mobile engineering at Facebook.)
With its use of sound and interactivity, the Device 6 app isn’t a novel. … Right?
Read more. [Image: Simogo]
China is in a frenzy for Airplane War, a cellphone game in which players wage aircraft battles and compete against their friends for high scores. Within two hours of its release in early August, the game was reportedly downloaded 180 million times. Stories of its addictive qualities have cropped up almost as quickly. According to one such tale, two drivers pulled over on a highway, one next to the other, just so they could finish their games. Another account describes serious thumb injuries; the South China Morning Post reported that two Hangzhou women were even hospitalized.
Airplane War’s success is the latest feather in the cap of WeChat, a Chinese messaging platform that has accumulated nearly 250 million users in less than three years. By combining games like Airplane War with free text-messaging, video chatting, and photo sharing—think WhatsApp meets Skype meets Instagram—WeChat has come to rival Sina Weibo, China’s most prominent social network.
Read more. [Image: Walter Newton]
There’s no end to MedicationMeditation, an unwinnable computer game about treating depression and anxiety.
Common gamer wisdom says that in order to achieve maturity, realism, and thematic complexity in video games, developers have to add cutting-edge technology: vivid graphics, plausibly animated characters, advanced systems of artificial intelligence. So the notion that a sophisticated story experience is best attained not by marching forward technologically but through restraint and good design is somewhat radical.
Yet that’s exactly what the four-person Fullbright Company set out to prove with Gone Home, a new PC release that’s being widely lauded as one of the best storytelling games in some time. It does a few remarkable, even brave things, thematically—like exploring the relationship of two teenage girls in love, and focusing only on a troubled family. But what makes Gone Home a special achievement among games, though, is all the things it doesn’t do. Many developers have longed to incorporate literary storytelling elements into video games for a while now—but they often stick to the formulas of commercial action thrillers anyway. Gone Home represents a necessary shift in focus, and it does so in a no-frills way that other video-game developers would be wise to take note of.
Read more. [Image: Fullbright Company]