Tag Archives: video game

Mass Effect II and Racial Essentialism

Blasphemous Geometries by Jonathan McCalmont


Genre is, to one extent or another, all about re-using old ideas. Ideas shared. Ideas reclaimed. Ideas reinvented. Ideas lost. Ideas rediscovered. Encounter enough works of genre over a long enough time period and you will see ideas rise and fall like the tides. You will also see patterns emerging in the way that certain ideas are used. For example, it is no accident that the rain slicked streets of 1930s noir fiction would pop up in the works of Raymond Chandler before re-appearing in the films of the 1960s French Nouvelle Vague, and appearing again in the novels and stories of Cyberpunk in the 1980s. The long shadows and bad weather of noir were an expressionistic manifestation of a sense of unease, a feeling that society was somehow broken. That same intuition has stayed with us over time, summoning noir’s set dressing again and again as new generations of authors deploy the same ideas and techniques to express ideas of their own time and place.

Genres are collections of these kinds of ideas. Ideas that form a shared vocabulary that gets used and re-used to tell new stories. But sometimes a good genre idea or trope will become detached from its metaphorical roots and take on a substance and a physicality of its own. The idea will develop freely as generations of authors engage with it but, because the idea has been separated from its original metaphorical purpose, the idea will forever remain wedded to the time and place in which it was forged. Like mitochondrial DNA, or a forgotten time capsule. A window into a different time and a different place. Continue reading Mass Effect II and Racial Essentialism

‘Roadside Picnic’ in game form


Man, I love post-apocalyptic tales.  Seeing the breakdown of social order and its ramifications – and then watching ordinary people struggle to put some semblence of order back into their lives – really entertains me.  And the video game industry’s full of this stuff.  One game that came out last year, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. – Shadow of Cherynobyl, injected some good ‘ol Soviet pessimism into the mix to bring one of the best – albeit buggy – games of 2007.  And considering that other game, that’s saying quite a bit.  The bugginess is excusable simply due to the raw ambition of the AI (actually called A-Life) involved in the game. 

The developers at GSC Gameworld attempted to create a living world for you to follow the story in – a ballet of mutant pigs, blind dogs, and desperate humans through which the player stumble through following his own path.  Sure, it broke a lot.  I’d often turn up to meet somebody, only to find them shredded by wild dogs and the quest unrealizable.  But, while the story you take part in is good, watching the others around you go about their business is just as great, if not more.  And the best part?  Clear Sky, a kind of prequel, is slated to come out in May 2008.  It’s more of a v1.5 on the original tech-wise.  Clear Sky covers what happens immediately after something else goes wrong at  Chernobyl, while the original (I can’t be asked to type all those full-stops) is set more than a decade past.

For a rather technical discussion of the A-Life system, read this interview.  If you want to read more about the original, including how the developers’ office is an abandoned military factory in Ukraine, RPS has a good interview up.  And if you haven’t read the original “Roadside Picnic,” go here now.

(via Rock, Paper, Shotgun)(image from S.T.A.L.K.E.R official site)