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Archive for the ‘The Moment’ Category

Last night, it arrived. It was a little late, and I had become concerned. But then, like a shining gem of bits and bytes, there it was.

It took some time to download.

But when I saw what will premiere exclusively tonight at our New York Videogame Critics Circle Awards ceremony, I was, as Jane Siberry once said, bound by the beauty.

I can’t say what it is. What I can say is that it’s a secret surprise from a top tier developer, the best of the best really.

And it tells a story, and what a story!

As a group, we are so proud to have this video for you before anyone else sees it.

If you aren’t joining us at the Awards in Brooklyn tonight, you can watch the ceremony beginning at 7:30 p.m. right here.

-Harold Goldberg, Founder

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In which the author as music critic descends far into the often exhilarating, often mellifluous worlds of Rockstar’s carefully curated soundtracks. He may never return. But he’s happy about that.

By Robert Gordon

Rockstar has dominated this console generation in terms of open-world gameplay — not merely with two well-received entries into the Grand Theft Auto series, but also with the much-acclaimed Red Dead Redemption. We could attribute this to strong writing, good advertising and marketing. However veterans of either series know that when we talk about Rockstar, we must talk about music. In a genre that too often leaves its players adrift and lonely in an opaque universe, Rockstar has succeeded in making us feel welcome, inviting us to explore. Though many elements are to thank for this, music has been their signature – and not without reason.

Note that the “open world” is a curiously existential form. It leaves us to make our own fun through procedural storytelling. The success or failure of an open world game is ultimately dependent on how fully its players relate to the world they inhabit. The feeling of a living, breathing universe around us is important. That’s unlike a “closed-world” game, in which we are just doing something. In an open-world game we are involved in being somewhere. The experience isn’t just one of action. We want to accept the world as being consistent and responsive, to feel ourselves situated in it totally.

Here’s how sweet tunes are part of that. (more…)

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by Harold Goldberg

Last week, I had surgery. It was indeed a bit rough; I’m still recovering. But ever since I can remember, I’ve looked to books, music, film and games as an escape from feeling bad, from pain, not the worst pain because the worst pain means the inability to enjoy media at all, interactive or non-interactive, even at its best. As I began to return to a certain normalcy, I felt the abiding need to indulge in a game as a flight of fancy, I wanted desperately to be taken elsewhere.

Nearby was my stack of games, and the latest, Assassins’ Creed IV: Black Flag went first because I felt it would take me on a nice trip to the Caribbean. Which is want I really want. The other day I fantasized about travel around the holidays. I went so far as to try to book something. (So, caveat emptor: Watch out for the hotel/flight offers on the travel sites. Every flight seems prohibitively expensive and every hotel/flight package is just plain prohibitive. It’ll seem affordable, but they’ll have you to stuck in Dallas on a layover for 10 hours. And that is no vacation at all.)

But back to my virtual travels. I hope to experience at least a modicum awe. In my wildest dreams, I even hope to be swept away.

I’ll give it just an hour to do that.

1) The PS3 powers up. The inserted disk spins. And the game loads. Or, well, it’s supposed to. I need a 32 megabyte update. I don’t want to wait, but I’m glad the publisher is doing its best to remove bugs.

2) Really? More waiting. Turns out there’s not enough room for the nearly 1.5 gigabytes I need on the PS3. I delete games going back to 2006. Eventually, I have room.

3) Dang. Really? More waiting? There’s a rotating triangle on the screen, not even any artwork as in GTA V to watch and muse upon as I wait. I wonder how long this data transfer will take. This is like waiting for a delayed plane. It lasts just 15 minutes. But it’s too long for me.

4) Surprised at the quickness of it, I’m immediately thrown into action on the high seas. I’m asked to the grab the ship’s wheel as attack is nigh. But my pirate character seems daunted by the mere fact of walking. His gait is slow as if he’s in a daze (or like me after the operation). Some pirate yells, “Grab the damn wheel.” I’m trying.

5) They want me to shoot some tall ships with cannonballs and oil-filled barrels. It’s not exactly the fog of war. I stop my ship not far from a cove and wait for the enemy to come to me. I don’t feel impending doom. I feel a sense of fun. That’s good; that’s right. Fun.

6) After the ships are sunk, I’m sunk, too, thrown off into the roiling water, perhaps to drown. As I breathe in the killing ocean, there’s a scene within a bedroom, featuring a beauty named Caroline. My character tells her may be gone on the high seas for two years. Two years? Women waited that long back in the day? When something like that happened to me in real life, and the wait was two months, I got a frosty, “You want me to wait?” And that was the end of that. But Caroline says she’ll wait.

7) I’m back to consciousness in the water. I hit the surface and breathe. Night turns to day and my swimming is like a ghost’s swimming. It looks like the water is going through me as a paddle, like I’m oddly translucent.

8) The tropical fish near the shore don’t flee from me, even when I swim over them. These are bold fish. Shouldn’t they rush away? Or was it different back then in the time of pirates? Yet I almost feel the warmth of a beach drenched in sun as I swim in to shore. That’s good. That’s like a vacation. That’s what I need.

9) Rich man, poor man. I’m just a penniless cretin. I meet a well-off, wounded assassin who lies near to me on the sand. We don’t get along as he seems to want me to save him for little reward. We have words. I chase him through the jungle.

10) Oh, the jungle! The beauty. It reminds me of a tropical trail, of walking high up to the water source on the Caribbean island of Nevis a few years back. In the game, there’s a thin, rushing waterfall and cove water so blue, it’s like clear blue sky, heavenly. I feel I can breathe deeply as I stop to admire the world around me. I peer at big blue morphos butterflies which are indigenous to a neo-tropical areas such as this.

11) I’m a ghost again. I seem to walk like a wraith through the giant leaves of tropical plants, never so much as moving them as the slightest breeze might. It’s an open world game. This kind of thing happens in open world games. But still, it took me out of that key moment of fantasy.

12) I fail in catching up to the assassin, a few times. The idea, I gather a few minutes later, is pretty much to run straight without much movement from side to side. Forget finding a quicker way to the human prey. Just follow his steps.

13) When I do meet him, I parry a blow from his sword. He falls and I kill him. I don his clothes (which weirdly fit exactly right, like Paul Smith has made them by hand). And I become him – a lowly pirate turned into a somewhat feared and respected assassin.

14) I search around for loot and secret things. There’s a lot here. But I want to move forward in the adventure. I only take a few dollars from one treasure chest.

15) I perch from an outcropping near another waterfall. Torturing pirates gather below. They try to shake down a merchant they’ve captured. Perhaps it was due to my New York Times reading and the proximity of that to game play. But his cries and the pirates’ torture remind me of yesterday’s story about young gang rapists in India. In any case, I feel empathy for the merchant and make my way to save the person.

16) I use stealth and hide in the grass. None of the pirates seems to be able to find me, and that doesn’t seem real at all. But it’s a game trope, and I’m happy enough that I get them before they get me.

17) The mewling merchant wants me to take him to Havana on a ship he owns. He’s overfed and shifty-eyed, doesn’t like looking me straight on. I can’t trust him, just as I can’t trust anyone else. Havana. There, in Cuba, I might find more beauty. A venturesome trip through the danger-filled  neo-tropics will now commence. I might even have it in me to utter a “Yo Ho Ho.” Or two.

Harold Goldberg, a contributor to the New York Times, is the founder of the New York Videogame Critics Circle.

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By Harold Goldberg

At first, I was annoyed at the wait to load the game onto the 360. I loved looking closely at the expertly drawn character screens. But they began to repeat, and because I’ve been very much anticipating this particular installment, I was getting antsy.

I looked at the massive map in my hands and, like it was an involuntary reflex, said ‘Wow’ aloud.

I started listening to the score as the game loaded, really, closely listening, closing my eyes, and it took me to another place, calming me, relaxing me, but not so much that I couldn’t appreciate every note. That opener features a moody, worthy score by Tangerine Dream.

The prologue/tutorial in the pelting, gray snowstorm was beautiful like something out of a Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven (except it’s more modern). It reminded me of being in my hometown, but I rarely had this much adrenaline going in Buffalo.
The Sopranos-inspired intro with a frustrated Michael dealing with the b.s. of psychology was dark satire, so deftly written.
Then, as Michael walks through the crazy passing parade near the beach, it’s such a wonderful hint of what’s to come into that culture.
The comedic banter between Franklin and Lamar makes that first joyride more complete.
That first red car handled better than the white sports car. I drove both about six times each.
Franklin’s Los Santos is rough and tumble. Don’t be fooled by the tidy homes. I got beat up because I pulled into the wrong driveway.
Inside Franklin’s house, his Mom’s is hilarious, but she’s a brow beater.
There are dozens of self help books on a shelf. Who knows why?
Franklin smoking pot offers up another humorous riff. He doesn’t want to be a “B” guy. He wants to be an “A” guy. I know the feeling.
The usually shy Dr. Dre shows up on DJ Pooh’s radio show!
And, if you’ve read this far, note that I have a much, much longer story to be published elsewhere. I’ll keep you posted!
Harold Goldberg is the founder of the NY Videogame Critics Circle

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How a game with a retro feel mirrors the way we are now, or rather, the way we could be. Writes the author, “It feels honest and sincere and refreshingly free of hipster posturing and ironic detachment.”

By Jeremy Voss

You don’t need much. In fact, this is all you should know before you start playing Gone Home:

It is early June, 1995.  You are 20-year-old Kaitlin Greenbriar, the eldest of the two Greenbriar daughters. You’re excited to return home after a long European adventure.  Home will actually be a new place for you – your family moved into a new house while you were away.  But when you arrive, iIt’s the middle of the night. A terrible thunderstorm looms outside … and nobody’s home.  There’s just an ominous note on the front door from your younger sister, saying that she’s gone and that she doesn’t want anyone looking for her.

From here, your monumental task is to not only explore the house. You have to find out what happened.

Gone Home is a first-person exploration game; there are no enemies, no time restrictions, no punishments or penalties.  Like an early Roberta Williams game updated for a trip in time back to the 1990s, you are exploring a house – not an ancient cavern, not a hidden tomb, not a rocketship.  The clues you uncover as you open desk drawers and file cabinets are handwritten notes, concert receipts, business correspondence.  It is hard to explain why something that sounds this mundane could be so compelling, but I found myself utterly enthralled right from the very beginning, as I tried to figure out how to unlock the front door.

The game is a success on a wide variety of levels.  First, it features one of the most well-developed and fully realized lead female characters in game history – Sam, your younger sister, who is voiced brilliantly by Sarah Grayson.  Indeed, the success of Sam as a character is making me rethink my position on the tired trope of audio diaries as exposition.  (Exhibit A: Bioshock Infinite.)  I’m a 37-year-old man, but I found myself relating to Sam over and over again; I knew girls like her in high school – hell, I’ve felt a lot of what she feels, to the extent that all teenagers, regardless of gender, go through the same sorts of things – arguments with parents, feeling out of place, realizing that your childhood friendships don’t carry the same weight, feeling a deep connection with someone for the first time.  The game stirred up memories and emotions that I hadn’t felt in years.

And it’s not just Sam’s character that stirred this stuff up for me – it’s that the game takes place in 1995, and it’s immediately clear from the period detail that the game’s creators know exactly what this means, and what 1995 felt like.  (In fact, now that I think about it, I was the same age as Kaitlin in 1995.)  This is important, because 1995 was a time before iPhones and Facebook and Spotify.  If you wanted to communicate with someone, you passed them handwritten notes; if you wanted to share music with someone, you made them a mixtape, and you’d also probably draw an album cover for it.  In the absence of blogs, you’d create zines.  You’d go through a TV Guide and circle the shows you didn’t want to miss.

These are the sorts of things you will come across as you examine this seemingly typical suburban house for clues.  The game scratches a particularly wonderful itch – the need to scour every nook and cranny for hidden things.  And so, in this particular case, what makes this itch all the more powerful is that the things you’re looking for appear meaningless on the surface, but those objects clearly carry enormous weight.  I found one particular piece of paper crumpled up next to a hallway wastebasket.  Without spoiling anything, all I’ll say is that the note itself caught me by surprise and started to make my blood boil; and after reading it, I, too, would have torn it up and thrown it away in anger, not caring if it landed in the basket or not.

As you explore, you’ll find that there are actually three different narrative lines to pursue – that of your sister’s whereabouts, that of your parents’ whereabouts, and that of the house itself. That the game is able to make these stories so deeply moving and compelling – without any cut scenes or dialogue beyond your sister’s audio diaries – is what’s truly remarkable.  You learn about the inner lives of your closest family members through their stuff.

No one would say that Gone Home is a technical powerhouse; it is certainly not the prettiest game ever made. It’s not 60 hours long, either, and it’s not the sort of game that will hit the same highs on your second playthrough.  But in a time when AAA game budgets can run eight digits deep, and when thousands of people work on churning out yearly entries in blockbuster franchises that don’t offer anything more beyond simply offering more, the thing that makes Gone Home feel so special is that it feels real.  It feels cared for; it feels crafted.  It feels honest and sincere and refreshingly free of hipster posturing and ironic detachment.

More to the point:  it made me feel.  Deeply.  Each of the three stories are powerful in their own way – this amazing, very spoiler-heavy post at Clockwork Worlds about the house’s previous owner blew my mind, actually, as it made some connections that I hadn’t put together.  But the main journey in Gone Home is ultimately Kaitlin’s uncovering of Sam’s story.  Sam’s story is one of the most powerfully told and emotionally resonant stories I’ve ever played.  To say more would ruin it, of course, but that’s only half of it – it’s not just the story itself, but the way the story is told that’s so revelatory.  When I came to the end, I found myself in tears, with a big goofy grin on my face; it’s not just that I was satisfied with what happened, I felt like I’d helped.  I felt like a good older sibling, even if I was only a shoulder to lean on.

There are times when one has the urge to ask why videogames matter.  I can’t speak for everyone, but for me the answer is: they matter because they can do things like this.  They matter because it has been a long time since any game made me feel like this.  It matters because I didn’t know games could do this.  And now that I know that they can, well… that’s why Gone Home feels so important.

* * *

For further reading:

I’ve been playing games since 1982, and I’ve been writing about games since 2008 or so; in all that time, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many heartfelt responses to a game before.  These are very spoiler-heavy, but well worth your time if you’ve finished the game and want to keep falling down the rabbit hole:

Correlated Contents – Gone Home: Dramatic Irony and Other Stuff

Danielle Riendeau (Polygon) – Finding Someone Like Me in Gone Home

Russ Pitts (Polygon) – How The Unlikeliest Fan Found Himself in Gone Home

Merrit Kopas – On Gone Home

Clockwork Worlds – The Transgression: You Can Do Better

Cameron Kunzelman (This Cage Is Worms):  On Gone Home

Brendan Keogh (Critical Damage): Notes on Gone Home

Ben Abraham – Jump Scares and Ludonarrative Harmony

Mattie Brice’s Alternate Ending – Ghosts

Auntie Pixelante – Gone Home

Kimfully Delicious – You Can’t Always Go Home

Naomi Clark (Dead Pixel Co) – Not Gonna Happen

Jeremy Voss, a writer living in New  York,  is a member of the Circle. Read more of his games essays at Shouts from the Couch.  

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It’s really one of our best Full Circle shows yet.

Host Sarah Awad went to XCubicle on Hester Street to find out about the art they sell — and the rumor of cockroaches in a PS3!

Founder Harold Goldberg talks about the subversive nature of Animal Crossing: New Leaf.

And there’s some serious discussion between Sarah and Harold about the Ouya’s potential success or failure.

As always, thanks to the great Victor Kalogiannis for editing the show!

Check it out, right here.

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By Sarah Awad

After news about the third installment of the Final Fantasy XIII saga, the author traveled back to a time when we were first introduced to Lightning Farron. 

When the first Final Fantasy XIII trailer was released during E3 2006, it was love at first sight as Square Enix introduced to me what was seemingly a new type of heroine.  Strong and swift with a searing glare, the mysterious Lightning Farron had a presence unlike that of previous franchise protagonists.  She was not a soft-spoken Yuna, a youthful Tidus or Vann, or a poignant Cloud.  She commanded her presence in that trailer with a bombastic punch and a fresh look, all while having full control over her body, her enemies, and may I say, her audience.  And this was a mere sneak peek; in exactly 74 seconds, I was smitten.  I have never felt such a connection with a character so quickly and so strongly prior to or since.

When the game was finally released, I was eager to become more acquainted with the woman I fell in love with three years prior; I wanted to know if she still possessed the power I had witnessed, if she was in fact the true videogame heroine I was longing for.  And she was.

Well. Almost… (more…)

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