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Thrower’s Tallies: Top Eight Designers


All the discussion about “great designers” that we had a couple of weeks ago left me dissatisfied. Rather than just throwing out names that I thought were good or great, I wanted to put some meat on those bones, some rigour to the process. It wasn’t hard to do. And I found the results startling.

We’re talking about my personal opinion here. What I wanted was a way of recognising people who had form for producing stellar games, regardless of how many games they’d actually produced. Now, I rate pretty harshly because I’m of the opinion that games are supposed to be good. Fun is what they’re for, so a game you’ve enjoyed is merely average. To earn a higher rating, it has to show me an impressive time.

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Bolt Thrower: Gears of War, Bloodborne, Witcher 3


Welcome to Bolt Thrower, the gaming column that blows your head off. If you’re new to the format, here’s the deal: I link something I’ve written elsewhere and then pontificate a bit on what I’m playing right now that’s not in the review queue.

My link this time round is the first of a new series I’m doing for Gamerati. The column’s called Bytes and Pieces and it’s about dissecting tabletop versions of video game franchises. First under the knife is Gears of War: The Board Game.

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Collective Action

Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures game box shot

I blame X-Wing for a lot of things. I blame it for making me read more than is decent about the expanding universe of Star Wars. I blame it for the gaping hole in my bank balance. Most of all, though, I blame it for turning me from a player into a collector.

Those of your who’ve been with us for the long haul will remember the amount of words I used to lavish on getting people to play their games. All the dire warnings against acquiring another identikit cube pusher when so many gamers already don’t play the ones they have. Part of me still wants to believe that. In reality, the tottering piles of hardly-touched games and expansions tottering out of shelves and cupboards all over my house say otherwise.

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Forgotten Pleasures


One of the unexpected effects of regularly reviewing games is how jaded I’ve become. It takes an enormous amount to impress me nowadays. And even for titles that make the grade, it’s rare that they grip me for a long time. Readers demand novelty, so the old makes way for the new.

Sometimes a game still gets its claws in me and demands play time in the face of all competition. The last video game to achieve that was Hearthstone, early last year. The last board games were Wiz-War and X-Wing back in 2012.

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Why Dragon Age: Inquisition Fails

Dragon Age Inquisition Dragon Fight

Dragon Age: Inquisition is not a game that feels like a failure. It’s got a world’s worth of stunning environments to explore. Its characters are universally layered with compelling and cliché-defying personal story arcs. The combat can get tedious, sure, but it’s a soundly designed system with some bonkers dragon fights. And certainly it has sold. Yet the game still fails and it does so for the very same reason Mass Effect 3 failed — it doesn’t stick the landing.

Lest I give the impression that I’m picking nits over nonsensical cut scenes and weird star children, my problem with Mass 3′s ending was largely quite different from everybody else’s. I’m not talking about denouement. I’m talking about climax and how it relates to the rest of the game. Star child was incomprehensible, sure, but he’s not what made Mass 3′s climax bad. Likewise, the lackluster final confrontation with Corypheus isn’t what tanks Inquisition either.

The key to a memorable and satisfying ending isn’t the implication of what happens after the camera fades to black or even whatever tedious boss battle kicks it into gear. It’s the question of whether or not it fulfills the promise set up by the rest of the game. Like Mass Effect 3, Inquisition is a game that beats you over the head, telling you over and over that it’s about team and coalition building. You face a threat that requires uniting disparate factions and disparate people to face a common foe. You dare not face it alone or you’ll be too weak. So you spend a good 100+ hours working your way through the world and sending lackeys on assignments in the name of building a better, stronger Inquisition.

Cool. Cool cool. Shouldn’t it follow, however, that when you reach the final stage of events that the strength of your Inquisition should, oh I don’t know, matter? At least a little?

Let’s dive deeper (minor spoilers ahead)…

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Thrower’s Tallies: Games of the Year 2014


Another year, another end of year wrap piece. Time to reflect on the past 365 days as you force down another sweetmeat and another glass of cheap sherry and then to wonder what the future holds.

This has not been the best gaming year for me, personally. Not just in terms of titles released but in terms of finding opportunities to play. For one reason and another, I just haven’t spent the time at the gaming table I’d have liked.

That makes me sad. Real life is important, of course, but you only get one shot at it, a thing I’ve become increasingly aware of as the years slip past. Since gaming is one of my favourite things to do, I ought to be able to find more space for it. Other things just always seem to intervene.

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Social Justice Warriors and The Grand Conspiracy



The Gamasutra/Intel debacle cannot possibly be summed up better than in the pictured tweet. I’ve blacked out anything identifying because I’m specifically leaving individuals out of this post. This is not about any one person. If you need a broader primer, this article at The Verge is a good place to start. For actual, non-fantastical ethical concerns in games journalism, this is a pretty good start(Edit: And this, because GG is not about ethics.)

So, how’ve you been?

Let’s talk about social justice warriors and their grand conspiracy to… well, I’m not sure what. But it must be bad for so many people to get all riled up. All I can say for sure is that I’m with you! (I’m not.) These people, these SJWs, must be stopped! (Nope.) We must not have social justice in gaming. (Because why?) Because justice is bad. Inclusion is bad. Diversity is bad. It’s a grand media conspiracy to destroy gaming because gaming must never change. It must never be criticized. It must never evolve. It must never engage in self-examination. It must never grow or broaden, it must only double-down on what it’s been for the last ten years or so, because that is the only history that matters. More guns. More explosions. Bigger tits. These things must not become an endangered species just because a bunch of chicks who are barely gamers to begin with, and the dudes who want to score with them, think games can be more inclusive.

If you support the ideals that you believe the Gamer Gate movement represents then that paragraph is going to sound belittling and misrepresentative. And that’s okay. It was meant to be. I know, being a large-ish (maybe?) group of people, you’re not actually all of one mind about this, and what GG represents from one person to the next isn’t identical. I believe there are good people (probably) who support GG and what it represents to them; people who are genuinely fair-minded (probably); are not racist or misogynistic (probably); people who are not inherently hostile and believe with every fiber of their being that they are on the right side of the issue (probably). I believe these people exist because they have to. No movement of this relative scope can legitimately hinge on making sure vocal women can’t sleep soundly at night. I have more faith in people than that. For the life of me, though, if you’re one of these “reasonable” Gaters, I can’t begin to figure out what “issue” you think you’re on the right side of.

Seriously. I have questions…

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Cracked LCD- Reiner Knizia, Master of Theme


Over the past year, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and re-thinking about what makes a game “thematic” versus “abstract. I reached a certain impasse, a level of dissatisfaction with games that were regarded by gamers with the dreadful “dripping with theme” appellation, which almost always means that a game has plentiful artwork, nomenclature and lore regardless of the relative interchangeability of mechanics derived from a stock list of routine processes and procedures. I’ve argued in the past that there are levels of theme occurring at “executive” (illustration and fluff) and “conceptual” (mechanics and contexts) levels. But a few games that I’ve been revisiting of late have caused me to completely rewrite the Barnes Position on theme in games- where it exists, what generates it and what it should be doing as part of a design.

It may surprise many readers, who have bought into a certain online gamer forum party line, that all of these games were designed by Reiner Knizia. For as far back as I can remember- going back to newsgroup at least- the general consensus was that Dr. Knizia was the case study for the pasted-on theme, a layer of pictures and text to impart a post facto sense of meaning or setting to colored, numbered cards or auctions.

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Why the Internet is Full of $#!t About Destiny’s Story

Destiny-Logo-XBox-One-PS4Like many of you, I’ve been playing Destiny. I’ve mostly retired from playing AAA video games for a number of reasons documented here at NHS and elsewhere, but a new game from the creators of Halo was compelling enough to get me to go to Gamestop- for the midnight release, no less- to pick up a copy of this big-budget blockbuster. Because Bungie understands video games better than many other developers. They understand play, and the Halo games have always excelled at providing players with lots of ways to engage their content. Their mechanics are impeccable and their games are thankfully free of the kinds of negative, hateful “let the bodies hit the floor” style violence so common in other popular action games.

But one thing Bungie has never been good at is telling a story.

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I Wrote the Wrong Post (on Misogyny and Gaming)


A few months ago I wrote a piece that was ostensibly about maturity in the game industry, but that was really about trying to define what is and isn’t sexism and misogyny in games. Yes, I uncategorically condemned online harassment. Yes, I absolutely supported the idea that the gaming industry desperately needs to grow up and become more inclusive. But I also wrote that the mere appearance of sexism doesn’t make something inherently sexist. I wrote that it’s impossible to avoid stereotypical pitfalls 100% of the time and that its surface appearance, which absolutely should be open to analysis and criticism, also shouldn’t come to define the entirety of the work. I wrote that we can better see the real problems the industry has with inclusion by looking more at the aggregate than the specific.

I was making the wrong arguments…

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