Shep, Scarlett, Skillshots

14 Feb

It’s been a little while since an update here, thought I’d post about some things I’ve been up to at Paste and abroad. It’s been a hell of a couple of weeks; I’ve added a few musical projects on top of all of my writing and editing, so I’m probably the busiest I’ve ever been.

[We’re a bit enamored of the word “busy” these days, aren’t we? Seems everyone I know is always talking about how busy they are. I guess that more than busy, I feel for the first time as though there is always something I could be doing, so maybe that is a better way to put it. Like, I will never respond to all the emails in my inbox, both literally and metaphorically.]

I wrote a piece about the voice actors of the Mass Effect games; in my opinion, the actor who plays the female version of Commander Shepard is by far the superior actor. It was a bit of a tossed-off article, but it would up kinda blowing up; feels good to get a couple of thousand shares off of something, particularly while spreading the word about a cool and talented actor like Jennifer Hale.

I also did a lengthy interview with the guys who are making InFamous 2, a superhero game set in a fictional version of New Orleans. Since I recently visited New Orleans myself, I thought it would be fun to talk to them about their process as they set about recreating the city. It was fun, and so I folded the interview into a feature. It’s probably a bit too long, and would’ve been better had I pulled choice quotes and worked it into a one-page essay, but that’s not how I wound up doing it. Next time.

I also wrote a guest-post for a blog I really like called The Border House. Founded by a handful of really good games writers, TBH has set itself up as a bit of a crusading force in gaming, a place where they embrace diversity, tolerance and equality, three qualities that are sorely lacking from a good amount of mainstream gaming culture. Every so often they run a “Characters Done Right” post, and so I wrote one about Scarlett, the lead character from the Scarlett and the Spark of Life iPhone game. I’ve been in contact with the two gentlemen who made the game, so I got one of them to give me some background on her creation. It was fun to write, and always feels good to point people to a gem that they might’ve missed.

Finally, my second Bit Player column is up at Paste. This time I talked about the concept of “Over The Top” in games, which has become a bit of a marketing term lately. I talked about the upcoming game Bulletstorm in particular, and tried to offer a measured critique of what I see as a pretty ordinary First-Person Shooter selling itself as an over-the-top freakout.

Countless blogs, gaming websites, and even Fox News columnists have gathered to discuss, decry and defend this game, yet as I played it I was struck by how ordinary it was.

In both single- and multiplayer, I spent most of my time running about with a whip in one hand and a gun in the other, blowing up red barrels and kicking dudes into environmental hazards. My character said “dick” a whole lot, sometimes hilariously (“Son of a dick!”) and sometimes eye-rollingly (“You scared the dick off me!”). I took the gunner’s chair on a giant spaceship, I aimed down my iron-sights with the left trigger, I manned a machine-gun turret, I pressed ‘A’ to climb over obstacles, and I did an on-rails vehicle segment. It was well-crafted and enjoyable enough, but if there was a top, I felt pretty firmly under it.

My post sparked some good discussion on Twitter, and eventually raised the ire of Adrian, Bulletstorm’s lead designer, who posted a lengthy note to twitter. Hm. An excerpt:

Kirk writes: “[…] it seemed pretty clear that People Can Fly had simply grafted some provocative language onto a fairly derivative scoring system with the hope that it would attract controversy and media attention”.

Now this hurts. Like, seriously hurts.

I was a bit taken aback by that “hurts” line—I felt I had written a fairly even-handed critique, and certainly meant no harm. I really enjoyed speaking with Tanya, the game’s producer, and as I mentioned in the piece, she did quite a bit to disabuse me of the notion that the developers had added their provocative language entirely to get media attention. I’m not so sure how I feel about his claim that the game’s “Gang Bang” and “Double Penetration” achievements come “from the heart”, but hey, to each his or her own. At any rate, he and I had a perfectly pleasant back-and-forth after his initial post.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone. Go read Leigh’s latest Thought Catalog piece, ‘The Best Kiss I Ever Had‘, and try not to drown in nostalgia for the wonderful, wandering chill of the winters of our youth.

I’ll just be over here playing Ochre songs on piano and writing internet comments.

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