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By comparing the culture within western and eastern RPGS, the author argues that plot in role playing games hinges not on one protagonist, but upon a motley crew of characters.

by Robert Gordon

In the world of role playing games, it’s the ensemble that’s key to plot formation. Though  video game characters can be motivated through external events, I tend to understand these events through the characters themselves. In an RPG my ensemble (along with a villain, and enemies, and tertiary characters) is my party. The party frames my interpretation of the world, as they act outside of direct control. My relationships to them drives the action forward, and the challenges I face can only be met by employing their talents. It’s all for one and one for all.

The distinction between J-RPGS (Japanese RPGs, i.e. Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, Persona, Fire Emblem) and W-RPGS (Fallout, Mass Effect, Dragon Age) covers many areas, but I believe that in studying the protagonist’s relationship to the party members and the compositions of the parties as a whole, we find the most telling differences. Note this  quote from BioWare co-founder Greg Zeschuk, via Destructoid

“The fall of the JRPG in large part is due to a lack of evolution, a lack of progression,” Zeschuk said. “They kept delivering the same thing over and over. They make the dressing better, they look prettier, but it’s still the same experience.”

The idea that western RPGs have “evolved” while JRPGs have remained stagnant, merely overhauled with expansive production budgets while ignoring fundamental questions of narrative and design, is as true as it is false.  Sadly, this argument has become common sentiment among many fan communities.

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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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It’s Saturday morning. Outside, the sun over the river is

like Kanye’s finest gold.

But I’m distracted, looking

forward to Tuesday night.

I’m looking

forward to Tuesday night

because we all get together, a community of proud nerds

because honorary member Daniel Radosh of the Daily Show is intelligent and funny and droll

because former Rockstar Shawn Alexander Allen will show off Treachery in Beatdown City

because Polygon’s Russ Frushtick is the Grim Reaper on Fox Business news, and I want to know more

because Unwinnable’s Chuck Moran has a new daughter, and I want to hear about it

because I want to grin at the castrating wit of Giant Bomb’s Alex Navarro

because this will be the first Circle experience for Mashable’s Chelsea Stark

because Kotaku’s Jason Schreier always has that wry nerd way

because Spike’s Jason Cipriano probably has tales of Comic Con that I haven’t heard

because Tech News Daily’s Jill Scharr will talk about that game writing Master Class

because intern Sarah Awad will has mavin-like insight into Final Fantasy

because videographer/writers Victor Kalogiannis and Jorge Jimenez are just so ardent about the games world

because who knows which game world luminaries will be there

because more critics and a thousand reasons

because because because you will be there

and we and you are

we and you are

like Kanye’s shiniest gold.

-Harold Goldberg, Founder, New York Videogame Critics Circle

NY-Videogames-Critics

 

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When I learned of Steve Morgenstern’s passing early today, it was a shock. Steve Morgenstern had been a fixture, until recently, of the tech and gaming scene in New York City. But I also considered him to be a friend. Although he wasn’t a Circle member and lived out on Long Island, I often invited him to meetings and events. He often said he wanted to attend, but that trip was a bit of a haul for him.

When I first met Steve, he was writing for Rolling Stone magazine. It was a great gig for him and impressive to others. Steve, in fact, was pretty humble about the fact that he was elevating the level of game journalism, simply by writing for that magazine. Occasionally, he would regale me with tales of Jann Wenner. I had one or two stories to add from the few music stories I wrote for the magazine, but Steve had better tales from the front lines.

Years ago, when Sony had a PlayStation event in San Francisco, the company rented a huge yacht to take us around the bay. Both us grumpily commiserated, “They don’t need to do this; it’s not going to change our opinion of the games.”  Upstairs, I think there was some fake gambling going on for prizes. Steve and I sat it out. We didn’t want the gifts. We just wanted to learn about games. And talk. We talked a lot about music that night, and about our careers as well.

As we chatted, Chase, now the PR Director at Twitch but then a brash games writer and reviewer, came up out of the blue and said, “I hear you write for Rolling Stone. How do I do that?”

We didn’t know Chase well enough at that point to realize this was his somewhat-humorous way, and Steve was annoyed. Steve was understandably protective of his gigs. After all, he had a family to support. Later, we all became friends. Chase is still a friend to this day.

At game events, you really couldn’t pull the wool over Steve’s eyes.

Now, the Web is full of enthusiast press bloggers (which I often enjoy), but some have no sense of game history beyond, say, five years (which I don’t like). Folks happily tout the wonders of videogames in all shapes and forms – under any circumstances.

But Steve wasn’t like that. He was curious, asked tough questions, and took no b.s.

On his Facebook page, some of the game writers who knew how important Steve Morgenstern had been posted short remembrances. Yahoo Games’ Ben Silverman wrote, “An old friend of mine, Steve Morgenstern, passed away this morning. Wonderful person, funny, warm, talented, sharp as a tack. He was a rare, old-school game journalist, a guy who managed to stay employed — and relevant — through decades of this turbulent industry. I remember reading Atari Age magazines as a kid — he was the founding editor back in 1982. I didn’t know this when we first met because we were too busy making each other laugh and kibbitzing about the shady catering at whatever the hell event we were at. Steve welcomed me into the business with open arms despite me clearly having no idea what I was doing, made me feel like a member of the club even before I proved I belonged. They just don’t make ‘em like that anymore. RIP.”

USA Today’s Mike Snider commented, “I remember reading Steve’s posts as a reporter. (I grew up reading Stereo Review & Rolling Stone.) And remember meeting this sweet fellow from RS when I eventually made it to CES. All I can say us it’s so sad and make Steve proud by enjoying every second of life.”

And Chase posted, “When I first got into the video game industry in the 90’s as a reporter, one of the fixtures at every event I went to was a wizened reporter (even back then). Later on when I crossed over into doing PR, I worked with him for over a decade and every interaction was always pleasant and respectful. When I saw a post today that he passed away, the wind was sucked out of me. Even though we lost touch over the last year or two, all of my interactions with him feel as fresh as yesterday. He said wonderful things about his kids and was always genuine and personable. Steve Morgenstern will be missed.”

Sometimes, Steve and I would run into each other on one of Manhattan’s busy street corners. We’d get to talking about everything from music to Broadway to, yes, technology and games. Suddenly, a half hour had passed. One of us would realize it and damn the fact that we had another appointment to rush off to. But we always knew we’d take up where we left off at the next event.

But now, there won’t be a next event.

Yet Steve lives on in our hearts and minds, as all of those good friends who have passed always will. Steve always had a kind of wise, slightly cynical twinkle in his eye.  That’s how he’ll be remembered in this particular heart and mind. As someone who wrote well, as someone who was always kind, as a true wit and as a font of knowledge.

A gentleman with a twinkle in his eye.

-Harold Goldberg, Founder, New York Videogame Critics Circle

Steve

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The agony of defeat inspires victory, and, perhaps, lasting friendships.

by JORGE JIMENEZ

Injustice Gods Among Us is the game I always wanted. It’s a superhero fighting game that deals with a parallel universe with bad versions of Flash, Green Lantern and Superman. After proving to myself that I could save the world from an evil Superman, I figured trouncing some poor souls online should be a cakewalk right? I really should have known better.

Shazam has been my go-to or “main” as the fighting game community would call it. I held my own in local matches with buddies on the couch. I’ve heard much about Injustice’s King of the Hill (KOTH) matches, a winner-stays lobby with eight strangers. The neat thing about KOTH is that you can watch the matches as you wait. It sort of evokes the feeling of waiting around for your turn at a game of Street Fighter. This was an appealing thought, since most of my angst-ridden teenaged days were shape by the hijinx that happened in and around an arcade. My general strategy would be to spam Atlas Bolt, a move that propelled Shazam across the screen as a bolt of lighting. If you remember M. Bison’s Psycho Crusher, it is similar to that in its unpredictability — and annoyance.

With my plan set, I randomly joined a public KOTH match. I was second in line so I wasn’t able to properly assess the talent in the room. It didn’t matter; this was a Netherrealm game after all. I should be able stick to a handful of cheap specials and I should net a couple of wins under my belt. My match immediately started against a Catwoman player. I didn’t know what to expect from Catwoman aside from lots of jumping and quick attacks. It did not matter. My plan was set. Easy peasy, right.

I don’t recall ever seeing a 20-plus hit combo in any of my previous matches in Injustice. I just sat there bewildered as Catwoman tossed around poor Shazam. The chat exploded with laughter and insults as a 20-hit combo lead to a 17-hit combo which lead back another 20-plus hit combo. Catwoman had kicked Shazam through the icy walls of the Fortress of Solitude to end the round.

I didn’t land one hit.

Hell, my only plan was to hit this maniac with one, just ONE Atlas Bolt. This fiend managed to dodge it every time. The second round didn’t go as well for me either. I remained helpless. I tried blocking, then I would get thrown, which would lead to another barrage of seemingly unending combos. One of the players in the room had asked if I was even had a controller in my hand. Another suggested that I stop playing videogames entirely.  By the end of the match, I was able to sneak in a couple of jabs. I was out-classed by a superior player but, I’ll be damned if I let that son of a bitch get away without a scratch.

I decided to stick around the lobby to see how the other faceless smartasses fared against this player of inhuman skill. One by one, each person fell to Catwoman. The ass-kickings were varied. This beast took advantage of every piece of interactive background  by leaping off cars and tearing into these poor bastards. The voices that once hurled insults at me became unintelligible grunts of frustration when their turn came to face the Catwoman. This player went through the seven of us with ease without uttering a word into his or her microphone.

The player didn’t brag or call us names. I think that was the thing that annoyed us the most. No insults, no reaction to being insulted. Silent defeat, over and over again.

One voice shouted that this player was only good with Catwoman. This time around, it was Solomon Grundy that beat us, then Harley Quinn, then Batman. The voices that were once against each other were now united against this monster. We all would shout possible strategies and grimace at each defeat. We were determined the slay the Beast no matter the cost.

This intended casual 20-minute session turned into 90 minutes of bitter warfare between seven brothers united by defeat and shame against one true evil. The loudest voice in the group who had come close once or twice to a victory was facing off against this villain once again. The strangest thing happened; he was winning. This had happened before: someone would get a good start, but ultimately fall in battle.

We cheered him on, telling him not to waste meter on super moves and being smart about when to block. Soon the Beast’s health, who was playing Catwoman once again, was down at 50%, 25%, then 0%. The round was ours. Our champion, who was playing Harley Quinn, seemed confident yet cautious. We assured him that he had this. Our hero took the same approach as before, some well timed blocks and some pure dumb luck and … he won. We erupted in joyous glee, congratulating our champion for doing the impossible. We couldn’t believe what we had been through. We started as bitter rivals then allies with a common foe.

At that moment we knew what it was like to be superheroes.

A few minutes later as the next cycle of matches continued, our foe left still without saying a word. Perhaps our torturer got bored with constantly winning or was simply worn down after having played over two dozen fights in a row. I like to think that he or she showed us a kindness by leaving. This person saw how happy we were and didn’t have the heart to break us down again into whimpering losers. The remaining members of our party took part in a couple of fun matches. Hell, I even became King few times. We discussed the silliness of parallel universes. We even exchanged playful insults and gamertags.

We were friends now. We faced the silent Beast and lived to tell the tale.

Later that day I saw a friend request waiting for me. It was the Beast. I promptly declined. Screw that guy, I know where my loyalties lie.

Writer Jorge Jimenez is a long-time member of the New York Videogame Critics Circle.

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by Jill Scharr

We’re big fans of Penny Arcade’s PAX conventions–they’re known for being friendly, open and inclusive, with panels on diverse topics, everything from sexuality to tabletop games to games journalism.  This year, the games journalism panels themselves covered a range of topics, from freelancing to breaking into IGN. Here’s a rundown of the journalism talks at PAX East 2013, and the advice they had for aspiring writers. (more…)

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By Harold Goldberg

Paris, France: Cold. Rainy. Windy. And utterly beautiful.

Far away from the Eieffel Tower at the Quantic Dream studios, a group of journalists is watching a 45-minute demo of live gaming from Beyond: Two Souls. The homeless Jodie Holmes, played by Ellen Page, wanders snowy streets in a blizzard – until she comes upon another homeless person, who sits on the ground with an acoustic guitar next to him.

She’s starving and she needs money. For food. And, as it turns out later, for self esteem, for she has none in this supernatural thriller made by David Cage and Quantic Dream.

Down next to the homeless musician she sits, and she sings. And man, her voice. Not only is it good (and it raised five dollars for food), it reminded me of the Lower East Side back in the day, and of Brenda Kahn, in particular. Brenda eventually got a sweet record deal with Columbia and opened for Bob Dylan.

But before that there were hard times. I remember walking with her and watching her play her acoustic guitar as she sang plaintive, powerful, story-filled songs in the Village and on Rivington Street. She, or someone, would pass the hat at the end of a set. And that money would help.

And as Ellen Page sang, that was the moment for me. I kind of got choked up because it all felt real to me – Ellen as Jodie as Brenda. The moment was subtler than what we saw at E3 regarding Beyond. Rather than being action-filled, it was dramatic, painful, touching.

I hope the rest of “Beyond: Two Souls” rings true as well.

More from Paris, and an announcement about Beyond soon. Stay tuned.

 

 

 

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by Jill Scharr
   Thanks to everyone who came out to the second annual awards ceremony! The Walking Dead swept the show with four wins: Best Writing, Best Indie, Best Game, and Best Voice Acting for Melissa Hutchison’s Clementine. Journey, Dishonored, The Room, The Unfinished Swan and Sound Shapes were all honored as well. The full awards listing is as follows:
   For best kids game: The Unfinished Swan by Giant Sparrow and Sony
   For best handheld game: Sound Shapes by Queasy Games and Sony
   For best mobile game:  The Room by Fireproof Games
   For best indie game: The Walking Dead by Telltale Games
   For best music: Journey from Thatgamecompany and Sony
   For best new game machine: the PS Vita from Sony
   For best writing: The Walking Dead by Telltale Games
   For best world: Dunwall, from Dishonored by Arkane Studios
   For best voice acting: Melissa Hutchison, for her portrayal of Clementine in The Walking Dead by Telltale Games
   For game of the year: The Walking Dead by Telltale Games
   The evening began with a panel that included Evan Narcisse, Tina Amini, Jason Schreier, Chuck Moran, Scott Alexander, Dan Ackerman, and Russ Frushtick. Moderated by Harold Goldberg, the seven New York City journalists discussed the highs and lows of this year’s titles and achievements, and speculated on the year to come.
   The one thing everyone seemed to agree on?
   They all can’t wait for BioShock Infinite.
   Daniel Radosh, the Emmy award-winning writer for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, hosted the evening, delivering a wonderful monologue that poked fun at everything from serialized franchises–“After Halo 3 then we got Halo: ODST, Halo: Reach, Halo Wars, Halo Kitty…though I did think that last one was adorable…”– to the big business side of making games–“You can’t recover health by crouching down behind a $75 million dollar loan from Rhode Island.” Radosh also arguably won the unofficial “Best Dressed” category by sporting Clementine’s hat from The Walking Dead, complete with fake blood splatters.
   Other notable guests included Lev Grossman, author of The Magicians and Time Magazine’s book critic, whose brother Austin Grossman was nominated for Best Writing along with the rest of the Dishonored creative team.
   Acclaimed horror filmmakers Larry Fessenden and Graham Reznick were also able to take time out of filmmaking and developing their upcoming survival horror game Until Dawn to present the award for best voice acting.
   And Darren Korb, the composer for the 2011 New York Videogame Critics Circle Award winning Bastion, was there with his band Control Group to close out the evening at the after party.
   Thanks to the NYU’s Game Center for hosting us and to NYU-Poly’s Game Innovation Lab for providing the Pfizer Auditorium and to all the NYU students who came out to the show. We hope to see you next year with more.
The illustrious panel holds court.

The illustrious panel holds court. Photo by Helen Pfeffer.

The Circle takes the stage en masse for the Big Apple Award for Game of the Year.

The Circle takes the stage en masse for the Big Apple Award for Game of the Year. Photo by Helen Pfeffer.

"If they ever do a Hitman reboot where Agent 47 is a geeky jew."

“If they ever do a Hitman reboot where Agent 47 is a geeky jew.” Harold Goldberg, Time’s Lev Grossman and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart’s Daniel Radosh. Photo by Logan Cunningham.

Russ Frushtick makes a point.

Russ Frushtick makes a point. Photo by Helen Pfeffer

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Thanks to all who made the 2nd Annual New York Videogame Critics Circle Awards a smashing success last night! Game developers, critics, celebrities, educators and fans came together in Brooklyn for an epic ceremony. And thousands more checked the event out on Ustream.

Here are the winners!

Big Apple Award for Best Videogame

The Walking Dead

Herman Melville Award for Best Videogame Writing

The Walking Dead

Battery Park Award for Best Handheld Console Game

Sound Shapes

Tin Pan Alley Award for Best Music

Journey

The A Train Award for Best Mobile/iOS Game

The Room

The Off Broadway Award for Best Independent Game

The Walking Dead

The Statue of Liberty Award for Best World

Dunwall from Dishonored

The Best Acting

Melissa Hutchison, The Walking Dead

Peter Cooper Locomotive Award for Best Game Machine

PS Vita

The Central Park Zoo Award for Best Kids Game

Unfinished Swan

-Harold Goldberg, Founder and Editor in Chief

NY-Videogames-Critics

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It’s hard to believe that the New York Videogame Critics Circle Awards will actually happen tomorrow night at 7:30 p.m.

To put this event together on a shoestring budget has been a long, arduous process.

But it’s going to be worth it!

If you can’t make to the Awards tomorrow, you can still watch the proceedings. Here’s the link to our Ustream channel.

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