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On Brütal Legend, Tim Schafer and his games

In the old days, videogame magazines lessened some of our indecision when it came to buying games. We knew Nintendo for their charming visuals; we knew Taito for their slick shooters; we knew Data East for, other than a good number of reasonable games, that Guns N’Roses pinball machine. But beyond specialty mags and our friends we knew little about who developed what. It all changed with the growth of the internet: over night companies were no longer unknown entities and we began finding out the names of those who worked on those levels, of who coaxed wonderful melodies out of 8-bit machines, of who poured their heart in making those sprites. At certain point gamers began understanding the notion of author and suddenly Mario and Zelda were no longer Nintendo products but Miyamoto’s games. Metal Gear Solid was no longer a Konami game and instead became Kojima’s “creation”. And so came the idea that videogames could be more than montly paycheques and that some creators have a voice or a vision. The idea that the industry may not just be about financial reports but about “art” instead. The idea that certain people in the industry deserve a certain status, even if the jury is made up of people who don’t know what “art” is, much less what a videogame is.

Which is not to say that, once in a while, videogames can’t go beyond themselves without losing what makes them unique and different when faced with other forms of expression. The ratio between attempt and success at this is arguable; less arguable are the mediatic temples consecrated to certain names. Tim Schafer is one of those cases where reputation elevates a creator to rock star status, earning him the esteem of journalists, respect from his peers and worship of the audience. Before Brütal Legend, Schafer was already a legend. Why? When Psychonauts saw the light of day, the press kept building this image of a brilliant designer whose games were filled with fantastic worlds and comedy, but their often mediocre controls and mechanics prevented further recognition. Which is peculiar. Before Psychonauts, Schafer had only worked on adventure games – a genre where controls and mechanics are generally irrelevant. And the only game prior to Psychonauts where Schafer had absolute authorial control was Grim Fandango.

Something to think about: all that reputation was built around one single game. Is it possible that the lack of recognition Schafer gets from the audience stems from a wrong idea promoted by the very journos who wanted to celebrate his work but didn’t quite do their homework?

And if so, how much of that reputation is responsible for Brütal Legend?

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8 Through the Looking Glass

September ’09

Isn’t That Spatial? Every video game has certain benefits and constraints in the way it represents space. Interaction fiction, arcade titles, 2D side-scrollers, isometric RPGs, and first person shooters all have advantages and disadvantages to how they deal with space–some technical in nature, some design-based. This month’s topic invites you to explore the ways games have represented the spatial nature of their storyworlds and what this does for the audience experience. Is it possible to ignore the constancy of spatial relationships in a graphical game? What would such a game look like? Are there ways of representing spatial relationships that we haven’t explored? Do you have ideas for games that could intentionally twist the player’s perception of space, or do you want to write about a game that already has?

I had a good intro lined up but Lose/Lose ate it. In lieu of that, I’ll just say that my plan is to follow up on Corvus’ topic for this month’s Blogs of the Round Table and discuss how the choice of perspective has helped certain games’ themes or genres by framing, limiting or exploring spatial awareness and their relationships with players in several ways.

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