What were the biggest pieces of content on The Escapist in 2010? Much of our editorial voice comes through in our comic strips that skewer the gaming industry, our editorial essays on videogame issues or design and our official reviews of the games we love. And just like us, our audience always has a lot to say about the hobby and lifestyle that we share, spraying incisive vitriol or supportive comments on our forums like a space marine sprays bullets.
In no particular order, here’s a handy guide to articles, comics and special features published at The Escapist in 2010 that received a lot of attention both on our site and around the Interwebs. If you haven’t already commented on these galvanizing pieces, feel free to sound off now or forever hold your peace.
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Critical Miss debuted on The Escapist this year after winning our first Webcomic Contest. Written by Cory Rydell and Grey Carter, Critical Miss follows the adventures of a game critic named Erin Stout but allows for frequent diversions such as this hilarious sendup of Gandhi’s actions in Civ V.
Critical Miss #39
By Cory Rydell and Grey Carter
Not all of Yahtzee Croshaw’s thoughts can fit into a weekly video show reviewing games. In Extra Punctuation, he rhapsodizes about individual games and their mechanics but he also uses the weekly column to explore geek culture at large. In this August 24th edition, Yahtzee argues against using the term “gamer” because it’s fraught with stereotype already and suggests that we refer to ourselves as “normal.”
Extra Punctuation: Don’t Use the Word Gamer
By Yahtzee Croshaw
Excerpt: The point I’m trying to reach is that playing games, as entertaining and fascinating and beneficial as it might be, is just something people do, not something they should be defined by. People don’t call themselves moviegoers, or TV watchers, or book readers. That’s the job of marketing agencies.
Perhaps I should explain why I’ve been thinking along these lines lately. As regular followers of my misadventures should know, I am one of four owner/investors of an experimental drinking establishment here in Brisbane called the Mana Bar (420 Brunswick Street, just past the Judith Wright Centre, listen for the noise of happy young people and MC Chris). A small venue where a bunch of TV screens and consoles are set up so that people can play videogames (for free, mind) in a social setting and get a few drinks down them. It’s doing well enough that we’re already looking into additional venues in other Australian cities, and possibly worldwide.
But the whole image of a gamer bar is something we’ve frequently come up against. I tend to prefer calling it a “bar where you can play videogames.” Even now, with the success of the idea proven and our intention to expand advertised, we see a lot of people on forums and comments saying “Huh, I wouldn’t want to go there, I bet it’s full of sweaty neckbeards constantly hogging the Guitar Hero machine so they can play Dragonforce faultlessly on expert, intermittently glancing over their shoulder to see if anybody’s impressed.” I’m actually willing to bet that the people making these comments are not a million miles away from this description themselves.
But you’re welcome to come down on a Friday night and see this for yourself: Our clientele, while there may be one or two of them on the whiffy side, are just normal, fun-loving people. Not “gamers.” Normal men and women, who have all sorts of interests, amongst them playing videogames, without feeling they have to form political parties about it. Not casual games, either.
So this is what I want. I want people to stop saying things like “I’m a gamer.” I want people to say things like this:
“I wake up in the morning. I take a shower. I get on the bus to work. I play Doodle Jump on the bus. I go to work. I work. I play a bit of Team Fortress 2 at lunch break with some colleagues. I go home. Some nights I see a movie. Some nights I go for a drink. And some nights I stay in and play Modern Warfare. I am normal.”
Editor in Chief Russ Pitts describes our critical analysis of games as Experiential vs. Evaluative in that we value what it felt like to play a game more than awarding points for features. In 2010, The Escapist began giving the games that we played scores to provide a judgement of value for our readers and this review of StarCraft II epitomized what a five star game should feel like.
Review: StarCraft II
By Greg Tito
Excerpt: Even though StarCraft II is fairly derivative of recent sci-fi television series (there are notes of Firefly and Battlestar Galactica), it feels original for some reason. It could be the strong Southern American influence of the Terran race; most every character has a strong accent or at least a twang and the soundtrack is more Southern Rock than sweeping orchestra. The cinematic story definitely has an Us vs. Them theme which feels very Southern.
That’s not to say that the cutscenes are perfect. The dialogue can feel forced at times, and most of the representations of characters reside firmly in the uncanny valley. When a character’s expression changes only once or twice in a 3 minute conversation, it just doesn’t feel right. The leadup to the conclusion of StarCraft II is quite impressive, as Raynor is caught up in universe-altering events, but, when it was all over, I felt that the last scene didn’t give me enough. I was left asking, “What happened? Did it work? How long do I have to wait for Heart of the Swarm?!?” Unfortunately, there’s no word on when Blizzard will release the next installment. My guess is 2015.
One might argue that the single player campaign is a mere preamble to the multiplayer battles of StarCraft II, where your mettle is tested against the multitudes. I disagree. Despite the pressures of recreating the success of the multiplayer masterpiece of the first StarCraft, Blizzard obviously didn’t put all of their eggs into perfecting just that portion of the game. The essence of StarCraft II is the saga of Raynor against the Zerg-infested Kerrigan and the struggle of freedom versus oppression. These themes are far from clear-cut, however; is Raynor’s love/hatred of Kerrigan more important than the human race? Is freedom important when humanity is threatened by the Zerg?
As in any piece of interactive art, it’s up to you to decide. The genius of StarCraft II is that these decisions rest in the very framework of how the game is played. By playing the missions, you embody Jim Raynor and decide where to place your resources and how to accomplish your goals. StarCraft II is not an open-ended experience, it is, in fact, fairly railroaded as modern games go, but it never feels like your decisions are meaningless. How you play, how effective you are as a battlefield general, matters.
Bottom Line: StarCraft II is a wonderful game, both as a story-telling experience and a strategically deep and tactically challenging game. The single-player campaign is deeply satisfying to complete.
Recommendation: If you have a games-ready PC, buy this game. If you don’t, buy a decent PC and then buy StarCraft II.
An honorable mention in our webcomic contest, Name Game was one of the comics featured in our Sunday Funnies. The Escapist audience voted with their mouse for the most popular and Elisa “LeeLee” Scaldaferri’s strip following a group of game store employees was picked up as a regular. Here, Alix is super excited to open that Portal 2 special edition …
Name Game #9: Love and Lies
by LeeLee Scaldaferri
As part of our ongoing interest in understanding what makes games work, The Escapist Staff debated exactly what it is that classifies a game into genres. The result of those discussions is our Genre Wheel which provides a map for the basic elements of all games and it guides our analysis on almost a daily basis.
Introducing The Escapist’s Genre Wheel
By Russ Pitts and Steve Butts
What’s in a genre?
Here at The Escapist, we’ve gone around and around on the subject of genre classifications. Sure, they can often be an arbitrary label applied to a piece of art simply for the sake of knowing what shelf to put it on at the store, and, as such, kind of demeaning. We like to think that games are more than the sum of their parts, and therefore, to a large extent, hard to classify. Some of our favorite games can be considered a mélange of different classic game genres combined in such a way as to create a holistic experience that rises above its genre classification. In fact, some of our older favorites seem to have been created without any particular genre in mind at all.
And yet, when it comes right down to it, our brand of games journalism is largely aimed at helping you decide how to spend your hard-earned money. Our approach to reviews is, after all, not based on some self-indulgent “games are art” philosophy; it’s based on helping you decide what to buy. Although we do believe games are art, we also know they’re expensive and that having some experience of playing the game before you buy it (even if that experience is gleaned vicariously through our review) is a good thing.
Viewed in that light, genre classifications can be a useful tool. Sure they may be a label, but sometimes labels are a good thing. Without a label, a jar of water looks very similar to a jar of bleach. Knowing the difference is pretty important. If genre classifications help you get your head around what a game may bring to the table before you plop your money down and are stuck with it, then they’re a good thing. Period.
The next step after establishing what makes a game genre differ from another was to realize that certain games epitomized our perception of that genre. Most of the 12 titles in this article were lightning rods that channeled our discussion into the foundation of a genre. Many of you might not have played all 12 games on this list, but if you play games in the genre they defined then you owe them all a debt.
12 Games that Defined Their Genres
By The Escapist Staff
Super Mario Bros.
First Released: 1985
Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System
Games like Pitfall!, the Commodore 64’s Impossible Mission, and even Donkey Kong all featured a character who could jump to avoid enemies and obstacles, but it wasn’t until Super Mario Bros. in 1985 that we had the amazing success of a platforming game that featured smooth-scrolling from left to right instead of all of the action occurring on one screen or board. The concept of several different “worlds” or levels, each with their own character and flavor, all started with Super Mario Bros.
That’s the reason that Super Mario Bros. sold over 40 million copies and fueled the launch of the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System. Shigeru Miyamoto, who would go on to design The Legend of Zelda and Star Fox, credits the widespread audience of his Super Mario Bros. to the simple “start screen.” In a quick animation, you see Mario jump and land on an enemy goomba, crushing him forever. That’s all you need to know. Couple the easy-to-grasp gameplay with wonderful music, art and high production values for the era, and it’s no wonder that Super Mario Bros. is the basis of all action platforming games that came after it. For millions of people, and hundreds of imitators, games like Sonic the Hedgehog, Crash Bandicoot and Little Big Planet, hearing the opening bars of the Super Mario Bros. theme music means platforming, and videogames in general.
Our non-games editor, Elizabeth Grunewald, is still quite geeky. She scoured the web searching for the coolest and nerdiest (if you pardon the oxymoron) hand-made collectibles that you can find. The pictures speak for themselves; who wouldn’t want to drink out of Spock’s head?
Geeky Collectibles You Really Must Have
By Elizabeth Grunewald
There’s no guarantee that drinking from this stein will provide you with long life and prosperity. It is, however, a highly logical choice for beverage containment.
I know it looks small, but I have 5,000 dice in here.
In this edition of Extra Punctuation, Yahtzee responds to Roger Ebert’s proclamation that games are not and will never be art. Take that, fatty!
Extra Punctuation: Videogames as Art
By Yahtzee Croshaw
“I remain convinced that in principle, video games cannot be art. Perhaps it is foolish of me to say ‘never,’ because never, as Rick Wakeman informs us, is a long, long time. Let me just say that no video gamer now living will survive long enough to experience the medium as an art form.”
– Roger Ebert
Excerpt: I could say he wasn’t shown the best examples of artistry in game design. While he only saw Braid for its mistake-reversing element that seems like cheating, and presumably didn’t realize that most of the game is about using various time-manipulation powers to solve elegant temporal puzzles, I would agree with him that the game’s still little more than an arcade puzzler with pretentious write-ups between every level.
I could say all of that (and indeed just did) but none of it matters. You know why? Because art is subjective. There has never been a clear definition of what exactly “art” is, and that’s because it varies from person to person. There will never be a consensus on “videogames as art.” I doubt there will ever be one over the matter of Tracey Emin’s Turner-prize-winning dirty bed, either.
My personal definition of art is something that provokes emotional attachment. And there are games that have given me far stronger emotional feelings than any other story told in any medium. Fear, despair, joy, sympathy, the whole gamut. But these were all extremely personal experiences. I’d no doubt have felt differently if I’d had a different personality. I can’t really share the emotions of a film critic blubbing at the end of It’s A Wonderful Life, and I don’t expect them to share those of my eight-year-old self blubbing equally hard at a funeral scene in Wing Commander. There are no doubt people reading this who were moved to tears by Aeris dying in Final Fantasy 7. I can’t sympathize any more than I can with Roger Ebert, but I can’t tell you that you didn’t have those emotions, or that they’re somehow wrong. And Ebert isn’t “wrong,” nor is he “right.” His perspective is just that – his own.
As MMOs go, World of Warcraft has reigned supreme since its servers opened on November 23rd, 2004. How do we know that? Well, the handy-dandy Escapist timeline, that’s how. The Escapist compiled every significant event int he six years of WoW to celebrate the oncoming Cataclysm. For the devout Azerothian, check out our interactive timeline and earn the Level-Capped badge.
World of Warcraft Visual History
By the Escapist Staff
Nothing is more polarizing amongst game fans than arguments over which platform or console is superior. Many of us prefer gaming on a computer with a keyboard and a mouse over a controller, but, in Issue #265 of The Escapist Magazine, Chuck Wendig skewers the sometimes maddening process of getting a game to work on his PC. And the PC gaming fans had a lot to argue with him about…
Punching the Baby Seal of PC Gaming
By Chuck Wendig
See this baby seal?
So cute! A blobby white puffball straight out of a Miyazaki film. Oh, look! The widdle baby has rolled over on his back! He wants us to rub his belly-welly! The way he wiggles! The way he makes those precious piggy grunts!
I’m not going to rub his goddamn belly.
In fact, I’m going to punch him. I’m going to punch him right in his widdle mouth.
I don’t want to. I’m driven to. My rage cannot be contained. You fill up a glass too full and the water spills over.
This baby seal is adorable as shit.
And I’m still going to punch his lights out.
Because Crysis just locked up on me again.
Crysis is the latest offender but it still serves as a perfect example – just one more turdlet atop a steaming heap of effluence – of why PC gaming makes me want to perform violent acts upon nature’s most endearing inhabitants.