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The Escapist Is...Features

| 8 Jul 2011 00:00

Last week, we announced a change in format for The Escapist. Rather than packaging a few specific features together each week, we'll be considering all of our content offerings as part of each week's issue. That means news, reviews, videos, regular columns and webcomics will all join the feature articles as important parts of each weekly issue. To help kick off this transition, we're offering a quick look at the types of content we produce each week.

We've already covered News, Reviews, and Columns. Today we're focusing on Features. In contrast to our regular columns, Features are typically one-off articles that treat a particularly interesting subject in depth. Whether it's the lessons five-year-olds can teach us about how to enjoy games to how glitches can actually improve games, our features can challenge and enlarge your perspectives.

Features are probably the pieces of content most obviously affected by our change in format. They'll no longer be published in groups of three or four every Tuesday morning. Instead, we'll release them one-by-one throughout the week. In fact, we have already started that.

In case you're looking for more, here are ten of the most popular features we've run so far this year.

Crafting Oblivion

image"Lionheart, however, believes that Minecraft's success lies in the community that has coalesced around it. "Whenever anything is being built, there's always someone willing to help out. Roleplaying servers also exist, with economies, guilds and even nations. It's refreshing playing a game where cooperation is freely given without any incentive, and the only reward is the satisfaction of completing a project together." Perhaps unsurprisingly, Lathania - the one who was attracted to the project because of its sheer magnitude - thinks that the game's appeal is due to its unfathomable sense of scale. Every Minecraft world is roughly eight times the size of the world to scale, he says, and since it's randomly generated no two maps are ever the same. "Some of the landscapes that are generated are absolutely mind blowing ... [it's] a big game," he says. "

What Happens in New Vegas

image"It takes everything I have, but in the end, I prevail. The top of the Hoover Dam is littered with bodies, covered in blood (some of which is mine) and at long last - it's quiet. I take a moment to look around and savor the victory. The view spreading out in both directions, down the Colorado River and across Lake Meade, is striking. Too bad my damn Xbox is stuttering like Porky Pig. That's when the Boomers show up with their refurbished B-29 bomber. They're late to the party, but that's not my biggest concern. Seems drawing the bomber is a polygon too far. The Xbox stutters once, then dies."

Sometimes I'm a Cheater

image"There are also plenty of times where I've cornered myself by cheating. The ubiquitous Konami Code helped me whiz through Contra, but I didn't get any better at the game. My own growth was eroded, in the same way I get worse at arithmetic the more I use a calculator. What's worse is, because I'd already reached the end, my motivation to go back and actually learn was squashed; it was harder to tolerate the challenge of the cheat-free environment."

Green Barrels Don't Explode

image"'We worried about the crate cliché a lot during development,' Gabe Newell said in the coffee-table book Half-Life 2, Raising the Bar. 'Finally, we gave up, and one of the first things you see when you start the game is a crate. We figured this was the ... equivalent of throwing yourself to the mercy of the court.' While it is partly developers' faults for establishing clichés in the first place, we are also wired as human beings to stubbornly fall back on prior experience when facing new ways of looking at things. The concept of "functional fixedness" states that we tend to limit our views on the uses of objects based on their traditional purposes. The "candle task" demonstrates this concept and how much impact presentation has on our thinking."

Casual Gamers Are Better Than You

image"Maybe you've been burned one too many times by new games. I understand that. I'm not saying you're a terrible human being for being more careful with your cash, but are you better for the industry with your lack of trust? Maybe not. Many unique games - Killer 7, Okami, Psychonauts, Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom, to name but a few - have fallen by the wayside due to the hardcore gamer's inherent skepticism. Core gamers cannot be counted on to support good games, but casual gamers can be counted on to support almost anything, so long as it piques their interest."

Ocarina of Timelines

image"While it isn't a universally accepted theory, there is reason to believe that A Link to the Past is set hundreds of years after Ocarina of Time. This theory is based in no small part on the appearance of what looks like a ruined Temple of Time in the forest in Twilight Princess when Link acquires the Master Sword. As Twilight Princess definitively comes after Ocarina of Time, it's reasonable to assume that the deterioration continued over the centuries, until eventually only the pedestal seen in A Link to the Past remains in the heart of the Lost Woods. There are some doubts about this interpretation of the timeline, as discrepancies exist between the intact temple and its ruined counterpart, but it's debatable just how seriously Nintendo takes continuity - if it takes it seriously at all, that is."

How Games Get Zombies Wrong

image"You're getting zombies wrong. You're getting them wrong because you're treating them like any other enemy - they might as well be reskinned to look like aliens, Deathclaws, Combine soldiers, or bloodthirsty Energizer bunnies. Zombies are so much more than a physical threat. They're life, subverted. They're the supernatural force that strips us down to our worst, most desperate instincts, and throws us against one another in an arena of fear and survival. All the things that terrify us about cancer and AIDS, about hurricanes and earthquakes, about life and death, those things are encapsulated in the horror of zombies. Horror isn't about loops of guts and viscera. It isn't about the moaning dead. That's just the mask it wears. The true face of horror is a commentary on our own hideous nature."

Glitching the Tank

image"Eventually, someone else succeeded where we failed and outlined a strategy we thought could make work. On a rare Thursday night session, born out of fear of the patch, we got together to make one last try. Somehow we managed to get to the farmhouse without too much trouble. I think the AI Director felt sorry for us, having watched us fail so many times before. Once we were at the farmhouse, we took our positions in an upstairs closet where we would fight off zombies until the tank arrived. Once the music welled up, we were to all go out the window, turn the corner and wait by the chimney in the hopes of glitching the tank. It all went perfectly, until we left the closet. I saw a zombie that wasn't there and promptly shot Petey in the stomach."

Pandora's Box

image"The Pandora's hybrid features betray it as a labor of love, not business acumen. "As we all grew up with an Amiga, we wanted a system that could emulate at least an Amiga 500 full speed. So we'd need a keyboard as well. And a hi-res display. And a touchscreen. This is basically how it started to look like it is." Then they added WiFi and Angstrom Linux. Born of and for a particular community, will the Pandora always be a specialist device? 'Yes, that's for sure,' says ED. 'The market is still big enough though, probably more than we can ever supply. There are a lot of Linux and open-source fans out there. However, you will never see it in bigger retail stores. The stuff that is sold there has to be as easy as a PSP or DS: Plug in a cart and play. The more flexible a system is, the more complicated it usually gets.'"

Ethics Without a Net

image"Since most videogame characters are just a walking collection of numerical variables, it's easy for most players to overlook the emotional content of a decision and focus instead on the gameplay rewards. With that sort of perspective, you're not playing the character anymore; you're just playing his or her stats, and morality just becomes one more mechanic to exploit for maximum gain. My Commander Shepard might be a high-minded idealist, but he's not above riffling through the pockets of dead people for a few extra credits. After all, I'm trying to save the world here and, let's face it, it owes me."


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