The myriad mounds of pig carcasses–a leitmotif of death–can be seen on the left of the picture. Furthermore, the picture captures the color palette well; it’s not vibrant, obviously.

Inside begins in medias res: all the player knows is that he/she controls a boy in a red shirt who must flee from masked men with guns. From its limited color palette (almost completely and deliberately, monochromatic) to its absence of a narrator and dialogue, the game looks and feels sparse. Nothing extra-diegetic invades or frames the world of Inside; the player, dropped into the world sans instructions or an explicitly established objective, simply plays and experiences the game, slowly immersing him/herself in Inside’s rawness. When I characterize the game as raw, I intend to convey how strikingly the developers have depicted the preponderance and iniquity of death as juxtaposed to the sanctity of life. Chilling and unnerving, gray, dull pig carcasses stacked in heaps serve as a leitmotif, a recurring image of death that populates the already desolate and dark landscapes. But in opposition to the image of death, little bright yellow chicks come and go, following the protagonist around, chirping away. In a world washed in black and gray, the golden animals counteract the great many images of memento mori.

A striking moment where light illumines the otherwise bleak world. Of course, the flock of chicks are following the leader/protagonist.


As the chicks must be utilized so as to solve puzzles, they function as a way to keep the protagonist alive; they are life-giving and precious–necessary even, to the completion of the game. This notion of the preciousness of life pervades the protagonist’s every action, from his sonorous steps to his fearful breathing. As the player, the individual who controls and dictates the protagonist’s life, you feel responsible for this apocryphal boy. There is no music to distance the player from the character: you are with him, hearing only what he can hear. This proximity or intimacy makes failure even more significant. The responsive controls cease to function when a bullet pierces the boy’s chest. The child’s death can be felt at the player’s fingertips. And he/she–the player– is the one at fault, the one who has caused the demise of life in a world so bereft of hope as it is.

The colossal weeds dwarf the boy protagonist. How vulnerable and small he must feel in this world.



Convolution and Death: The End and Beginning of Eras in Dark Souls III

As the video game industry continues to evolve, very few games have earned so infamous a reputation as the original Dark Souls game which was released in 2011. What it was infamous for was the intense difficulty through its punishing difficulty,  and convoluted world/plot line. As someone who has invested far too many hours into Dark Souls III on Steam, I can attest to either point. However, it’s easy enough to say how many times I have died or which is the enemy I have died the most to among the many other elements of difficulty that make Dark Souls the cult “hardcore gamer” game. In retrospect, I think the most interesting thing about my first play through of Dark Souls III, I didn’t really care about the plot. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration either to say that I didn’t really know it existed then either. The convolution of the world isn’t mostly shown by the developers in the level design, color palette, or even boss/enemy design; most of the convolution in the Dark Souls series can be derived from both the story and the plot line.

Let me explain exactly what I mean by both story and plot line, an essential theme in all of the Souls games is that the world you live in, or the ideological paradigm headed by the Gods of the world, is dying. You, born of the dark, are to rise above your human caste and choose either to continue the God’s paradigm or start a new one, that of the humans. From that incredibly brief, overly simplified description of the plot, it would be easy to think this some incredibly basic archetype filled plot where choices and outcomes are clear. Hardly so, even though these are the few endings that can be arrived at by the player, the choices that lead them there are not so clear. This is where the story comes in, unfortunately for the player the story behind each NPC which invariably would lead to a different approach by the player is only made clear after the fact. Perhaps now it is a good time to repurpose our definition of convoluted, while in its essence it means a complicated story in this case it is not too hard to think of it meaning something twisted and folded. Both the story and plot overlap and twist into each other over and over again, until ultimately you the player start the games thematic cycle again in bringing your character into the next iteration of the same world.

Source: Convolution and Death: The End and Beginning of Eras in Dark Souls III

Kingdom Hearts 2: New Perspectives on an Old Favorite

I thought this class would be a great opportunity to replay Kingdom Hearts 2 before the long-awaited release of Kingdom Hearts 3 at some point this year. On top of having many years of separation from this game, this play-through will likely be a completely different experience for me in that I’m playing the revamped version: Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix for the first time rather than returning to the original Playstation 2 version. This means I am likely to encounter slightly different mechanics, visuals, and bonus story content that I am unfamiliar with.

 Source: Promotional photo for Kingdom Hearts 2.5 Remix

To start off with, something that has always been unusual to me (and to most people) about Kingdom Hearts is how it blends two incredibly popular and very different worlds with an entirely new one. From the image above, many characters are easily identifiable to nearly any audience: Stitch from Lilo and Stitch, Ariel from The Little Mermaid, Jack Sparrow, Mickey Mouse, Mulan, etc. These core Disney characters are ones that most people either grew up with or had their children grow up with. Similarly, characters such as Cloud Strife and Zack Fair are just as identifiable to an audience of gamers, since they’re both major characters in the iconic Final Fantasy 7. With these familiar characters and franchises in mind, my first question about my replay in regards to our class was to wonder whether or not Kingdom Hearts as a whole is dependent on “Evocative Spaces” as defined by our Game Design as Narrative Architecture reading. In the specific case of Kingdom Hearts 2, I would say no, but the familiar imagery plays a major part in making the game even more strange than it already is.  Since the franchise in general was released out of chronological order, adding two vastly different universes to an entirely new plot line creates seemingly endless plot-holes and points of confusion.

Based on the very beginning portion of KH2, neither the Disney or Final Fantasy worlds do much but fluff up the Kingdom Hearts world. The first two to three hours of the game require that you unwittingly play through a summer vacation simulation from the perspective of a never-before-seen character (Roxas) while receiving flashbacks from the first game’s protagonist (Sora) – it becomes obvious fairly instantly that these two characters are related, but none of the other connections between characters of universes is immediately clear. This being said, it almost seems as though the “evocative spaces” present in Kingdom Hearts are almost pointless to understanding the actual plot.

I’m also interested in how opposite all of these worlds are thematically. In general, based off Jasper Juul’s interpretations of a game’s “fiction”, Disney is very positive, Final Fantasy has a tendency to lean into a darker, more negative zone, and Kingdom Hearts is overwhelmingly vibrant and colorful to disguise an overall depressing plot about darkness engulfing the human heart. Though I don’t believe Kingdom Hearts falls into either the “casual” or “hardcore” game categories by the polarized definitions, I think it’s strange to consider it as somewhere in between – especially since it’s technically a game aimed at a longer audience but is completely stocked with dark themes.

Source: Kingdom Hearts 2: New Perspectives on an Old Favorite

Nothing warms my soul quite like Dark Souls:

Every time I decide to start another playthrough of Dark Souls I have to watch the opening cinematic. The imagery, music, and voice over that are used fit together in such a way that gives the player a clear understanding of the world they are about to experience. It is also the only portion of continuous narrative information that the player will not have to seek out and piece together themselves throughout the entire game. All other bits of world-building narrative information will have to be obtained from conversations held with non-player characters (NPCs) and reading item descriptions.

While there is a general sequence of events that would be ideal to follow, the game does not tell the player what that sequence is. Neither does it limit the player to one specific order to follow. Dark Souls takes full advantage of spatial storytelling as discussed in the Jenkins article because it relies almost entirely on the player’s motivation to explore and persevere in the face of extreme adversity. If the player does not interact with every room, check for false walls in different areas, or talk to NPCs they come across they are potentially missing out on important items or bonfires that give them a chance to level up.

When other games are branded as being difficult they will without a doubt be compared to Dark Souls. While there is some validity to the comparisons – the learning curve in Dark Souls is a lot steeper than most, and there aren’t many games that punish you for attacking an enemy one too many times – I feel like most individuals will misunderstand the developer’s intentions. Dark Souls is not difficult simply for the sake of being difficult.

In the world that Dark Souls creates there are certain individuals who have the Undead Curse (as the name implies, if they die they are simply reanimated) and are marked with the Darksign.

Unfortunately for the Undead, they slowly begin to lose their sanity as time goes on and they can eventually become Hollow (complete loss of purpose and sanity). To most Undead, it is the worst imaginable fate to have and they actively try to avoid going Hollow. The game is intentionally difficult to see if the player truly is the “Chosen Undead”. If it is too difficult and the player gives up, we can consider them to have “gone hollow” and unfit to fulfill the prophecy.

Source: Nothing warms my soul quite like Dark Souls:

2048 Reasons to Zone Out

2048, Casual Game, App, Android

Lawrence King

Digital Narratives


February 2, 2018

2048 is a single-player sliding block puzzle game. The game’s objective is to slide numbered tiles on a grid to combine them to create a tile with the number 2048. I’m a fan of this game because it’s the perfect example of a casual game. It’s easy to use, has a simple but not boring concept and most importantly it’s a game I can get lost in and pass the time with.

This game is available in the app store and it’s free. It’s easily accessible and appropriate for all ages. All you need to play it are your fingers, you need to know how to swipe left, right, up and down and you need to know numbers. Even if you don’t know numbers you can have a blast just swiping randomly on the screen until it’s game over. This game is a no-brainer. You don’t have to think excessively and can still have fun while playing it.

Games like these are perfect for a casual gamer who’s just looking for something to do to pass the time. I play this game when I’m on the train, in a waiting room or just bored. I compare this game to working on an assembly line. You’re doing the same task repeatedly, it’s easy enough that you don’t get bored and the more you do it the more you get lost in it. A game like 2048 wasn’t meant to satisfy a need for adventure or conquest like The Witcher, and it wasn’t meant to satisfy your bloodlust like God of War; this game was made to pass the time.

The game is never ending too. Even if you get to 2048 you can keep going and it takes some time to get to 2048. I don’t need to be attached to this game either. I can walk away whenever I want; I just turn off my phone and it’s totally OK; no guilt. Plus, even though you walk away, the game just puts your progress on pause and you can continue it later. Definitely one of the best casual games on the market.

Source: 2048 Reasons to Zone Out

On the Brink of Reality

When you hear “FIFA,” your mind could go to one of two places: the recently exposed international soccer governing body, or the video game franchise, developed by Electronic Arts (EA). My first game log is an in depth look at FIFA 18’s gameplay, specifically its “realness.”

In Robert Caillios’s 1958 article Man, Play, and Games, he specifies six criterion for “play”: it must be free, separate, uncertain, unproductive, governed by rules, and make-believe. It is necessary to use Caillios’s definition when discussing FIFA because so often I hear, “Do you want to play FIFA?” or “Let’s play FIFA.” Play is always in the conversation with FIFA.

But how much do FIFA’s creators, EA Sports, want this play to be “separate,” and how “make-believe” do they want the game to be?

In my game lab, I played Manager Mode, a feature of the game where you can act as a manager of any team. I chose Watford FC, a mid-table team in the English Premier League. The game asks you to design your manager by choosing a face and an outfit, and allows you to name your manager (I named mine Mattinho Reinikkinhos, my Brazilian alter-ego.)

As a manager, other clubs wanting to buy your players often approach you. On my second day as manager of Watford, Everton FC, another English club, approached me to buy my starting goalkeeper, Heurelho Gomes. When I elected to negotiate with Everton, it sent me to a meeting room, which you can see in the video below.

Instead of simulating the sale of Gomes, EA designed Manager Mode to be as realistic as possible. It sends you to the boardroom to discuss the transfer, and gives you, the manager, complete control of the transfer. In my case, I proposed too high of a transfer fee for Everton’s liking, causing them to back out of the deal.

The other noticeable decision that EA made with FIFA 18 was to make each individual game as close to a real broadcast as possible. In the video below, you can see the introduction to my first game as Watford manager against Liverpool FC. The game goes through showing players in the warm-up, the walkout, the starting lineup, and many other features you would see on an actual Premier League broadcast on NBC.

Screenshot from NBC Sports broadcast of the English Premier League.
Screenshot of FIFA 18 gameplay.

In the FIFA 18 actual gameplay, EA emulates the exact same noise that can be heard on an NBC broadcast. The crowd noise, the commentators (Martin Tyler and Alan Smith), the sound of the ball being kicked—it is exactly the sounds you would hear on a Saturday morning watching a real Premier League game. Additionally, the design of the scoreboard in the upper left-hand corner is identical to NBC’s.

Why did EA decide to make FIFA 18 more “real” than any previous FIFA? Their decisions stand as a direct challenge to two of Caillios’s tenets—that play must be separate and make-believe. Though FIFA 18 is not real soccer, it is the closest “soccer” watching experience to an actual NBC Premier League broadcast. With increasing demands for higher quality graphics and more realistic gameplay in the video game world, EA pushes the envelope of reality with FIFA 18.

Works Cited

Caillois, Roger, et al. Man, Play, and Games in The Game Design Reader. MIT Press, 2006.

Source: On the Brink of Reality

I Literally Have No Vowels

Words With Friends 2


Words With Friends 2 is basically your epitome of a casual game. No gore, no element of fear, and certainly no punishment, this game combines the classic elements and mechanics of scrabble with the ability to connect online with other individuals, hinting the “with friends” portion of Words With Friends.  The game even offers a chat box to communicate with your opponents.

Another element that makes this game fall into the casual game category is the fact that this game is about as juicy as it gets. There are bright colors, inviting sounds, and prizes to be won with the completion of weekly challenges.  All of these elements combined with extreme playability makes this game one that is accessible to almost anyone. Take a look at the trailer below to get a feel for the game and the casual atmosphere that the developers at Zynga intended with its design.

Is there anything interesting that can be said about a game like this? The academic intrigue that can be found in this game partially lies within the juxtaposition of the seemingly friendly, low risk vibe with the high stakes competitive atmosphere. You might be asking, how is this game high risk? You can’t die, there are no punishments for a loss, and, most importantly, there are no zombies trying to eat you.  Well, the punishment in this game is one that isn’t quantified within the game.  What you’re risking with this game is your pride. A win cements your superior intellect to your friends while a loss leaves you embarrassed and desperate for a rematch.

This game centers around agon competition that involves strategy, skill, and intelligence while mixing in alea factors of tile selection and opponent word placement.  This combination of agon and alea components offers another interesting component of Words with Friends: how players respond to the game. With a game that can be tied to intellect, a loss can feel like a real blow. I am interested to know if players view losses and victories differently.  What I mean is, are losses written off as unlucky results of chance while victories pinned to a players superior skill? There may be an element of this in all games that combine aspects of agon and alea, but is it more apparent in a game like Words With Friends that centers around the players intellectual ability.

A look into the tile bag

These questions will be analyzed further in upcoming blogs along with other aspects of Words With Friends. At surface level this game may not seem like much but, like any successful game, an incredible amount of thought and creativity has gone into its design and therefore this game has a lot to offer upon further inspection.

Source: I Literally Have No Vowels

Like a Bad Dream: Surrealist Horror in Rusty Lake: Roots

Rusty Lake: Roots in an escape-the-room puzzle game telling the story of the Vanderbloom family in 1860.  Dysfunctional to the extreme, this family is brimming with murder, suicide, cult-like rituals, sacrifice, and strange experiments.  What interests me the most about Rust Lake: Roots, however, is its use of surrealist horror.

I’m a lover of most things horror (the glaring exceptions being torture porn and anything with large spiders).  But spooky and scary generally delight me.  What makes Rusty Lake: Roots so unsettling is that it just doesn’t make sense.  The website TV Tropes explains that surrealist horror is “not just nightmare-inducing, it’s nightmarish in a literal way, by being surreal, disjointed, dreamlike, and filled with bizarre imagery, usually saying goodbye to all logic and sanity in the process.” 

Rusty Lake: Roots definitely fits the bill.  Some levels are more frightening than others, certainly, but the whole game feels like an incomprehensible nightmare.  There’s a recurring shadowy figure shaped like a large man with a bird’s head.  In a birthing scene, you give one baby a bottle of blood, and it drinks it happily.  Albert, one of the main characters, is frequently depicted wearing strange, frightening masks that can sometimes control the weather.  In an otherwise romantic scene, James proposes to Mary with a message written in Mary’s blood.


Mr. Crow lurking in the window. Personal screenshot.
Mary goes to sniff a flower and her face promptly begins to bleed. My screenshot.

What interests me most about this surrealist horror is its use in a puzzle game.  Puzzles are about figuring things out, finding clues and solving problems.  In Rusty Lake: Roots, solving the puzzle often only brings about more puzzling results.  Mr. Crow, as the bird-man is called, will often appear at the very end of a level.  In one level, the final step to the puzzle involves cutting out a corpse’s tongue and putting it in a jar, but you never know why.  The player solves the puzzle and figures something out only to be greeted with something incomprehensible.  I think this mismatch between the mechanics of the game and the theme is a really powerful choice.  Contrary to our usual experience, solving the puzzle often results in more questions than answers, enhancing the game’s surreal, bizzarre atmosphere.

Source: Like a Bad Dream: Surrealist Horror in Rusty Lake: Roots

FMS 321 Blog Post 1: Violence, murder, rape, political corruption – Is this real life or a videogame?

The world is chaos.  Violence and rape are rampant, politicians are corrupt, and civilians feel helpless and hopeless.  Is this real life?  No, but it is Persona 5’s game creators’ reflection of the current state of the real world. Persona 5 opens with a gameplay scene where the player, a masked teenage boy, intrudes on a grand party in a casino, and is guided through simple mechanics like “jump” and “hide” to (unsuccessfully) escape the police.  It cuts to the police interrogating the boy, but he is unable to remember why he was arrested.  There is a mysterious voice that speaks in between cuts scenes that says, “For the sake of your world’s future, as well as your own, you must remember.” This voice seems to foreshadow one of the goals of the game – save the world by discovering why you were arrested.

In the tutorial, the player is dropped into a neighborhood in Tokyo and tasked with finding his way to his new residence with Sojiro Sakura. It is a helpful level to learn the game mechanics, as well as to orient yourself in the context of the game’s story.  The left joy stick moves the player, while the right joy stick changes your point of view of the player.  Additionally, although you can only see a part of the game space in one view, a small grid-like map with icons indicating important markers makes it easy to navigate in and out of the game space.

By exploring the tutorial’s neighborhood, you can overhear other characters’ conversations.  These embedded conversations do not seem necessary (so far) to success in the game, but they do provide important information to understand the state of chaos and corruption that is the game’s world.  Some couples speak pessimistically about the economy being down and the aging population, or how “things won’t get better because of politics,” while another old man reads the newspaper and says, “Another string of rampage accidents.  I just hope none of them happen around here.”

So far, though I have played little of the game, but I am intrigued by its story and very curious how it will unfold.  Lastly, as an inexperienced gamer, I appreciate that Persona 5 gives the option of how difficult you want to make the game (safe, easy, normal, or hard), each not affecting the course of the story itself.

Source: FMS 321 Blog Post 1: Violence, murder, rape, political corruption – Is this real life or a videogame?

Let’s Make Juice

Bored at a commercial break, I take out my phone, and the next thing I know I am slicing apples, oranges, pears, and the all-important bananas. I am playing my favorite casual game, Fruit Ninja. Over the years my interest in this game has come and gone; however, with this assignment I plan to take a critical look at some of the characteristics of Fruit Ninja that make it a casual game.

According to the chapter “What is Casual?” by Jesper Juul that we read for class, Fruit Ninja meets all five of the specifications for a casual game, it is fictitious, easy to use, it has interruptibility, there is a low amount of punishment, and it is highly juicy. In this blogpost I want to specifically address the punishment and juiciness aspects of the game. Fruit Ninja has three modes, and each has a varying level of punishment. In “Zen” mode there is absolutely no punishment, fruit simply flies up for ninety seconds before the game terminates. In “Arcade” mode there is slightly more punishment; in addition to the fruit there are now bombs, which if hit will lower a player’s score by ten points and will remove any blitz that the player currently has. In the grand scheme of the game, a ten-point reduction is very small, and the blitz can easily be re-earned by slicing more combos. Even in this mode it does not appear that the punishment is overwhelmingly harsh. The final mode, “Classic,” has the strictest punishment. In this mode there is no time limit, instead the player slices fruit until he or she drops three fruit (after every 100 points one drop is erased) or until a bomb is hit. This is clearly the most severe punishment in the game, as a single errant slice could end an entire game. However, the difficulty level, especially in the early stages, makes the game very accessible to players of all abilities.

This picture shows the minus 10 points from hitting a bomb in “Arcade” mode

Finally, I want to talk about the juiciness of the game. As one might expect when violently slicing all types of fruit juice flies on to the screen. More to what Juul discusses in the aforementioned chapter, there is almost endless positive feedback, both visually and audibly. For example, when a player gets a combo a graphic pops up that tells the player about the combo, along with a special noise that only accompanies combos. In “Arcade” mode, the juiciest of all the modes, a player is capable of getting combo blitzes when he or she gets a certain amount of combos in a certain time period. A blitz is accompanied by a special light in the background of the dojo, which acts as a reinforcer for the player. In addition to the lights in the background, every blitz is accompanied by what sounds like an “ahh” from the crowd. Juiciness is one of the hallmarks of a casual game, and Fruit Ninja, at its core, is full of juice.

This picture shows the background yellow lines along with multiple examples of positive reinforcement from the previous slice

Source: Let’s Make Juice