Well, again dear readers, I’ve arrived at today unprepared. Much like last week’s article with sport, today I’ll be talking about something near and dear to me–some things near and dear. You see, today, I became a registered member of the escapist magazine–an online magazine dedicated to games, gaming culture and articles/reviews on same. I’ve been a frequent visitor of their site for a few years to watch a review series called Zero Punctuation but recently, I decided to check out some of the other video series on the site as well. And, as I have nothing planned, I figured I’d force you to sit through my reviews of same. Enjoy! If you really want to.
REVIEW: Zero Punctuation (the originator!)
Let’s get some perspective up in this to start off with. If you’re entirely foreign to the escapist or video game culture in general, you will have no idea what Zero Punctuation is, or is about. On the surface, and as it’s often characterized in negative press, it’s a review series. Every week, host Yahtzee Croshaw (author of Mogworld, the most recent book I enjoyed entirely) takes one game into the corner of his living room and delivers a beat-down of such magnitude that most games would be lucky to have one element deemed mediocre. Yes, it does seem a little reductive on the surface to give every single game a negative review–that’s why occasionally (but only very occasionally)–Yahtzee will talk about a game he loves. There are reviews like Too Human, Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days, or Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II that are thrown under his foot to be flattened like the insolent crud I can only assume them to be. There are also moments like his review of The Orange Box (Portal specifically), No More Heroes or Shadow of the Colossus when his modes are set to praise. Take note of those games, for they should be worth playing.
The draw of ZP for a non-gamer like myself isn’t accurate or non-biased reviews. Indeed, if these were actually reviews and Yahtzee were paid to write them as such, I get the impression he’d be immediately fired. Roger Ebert, a man that both Croshaw and I hold in high esteem and aspire to, wouldn’t be able to savagely tear apart every movie that filtered through his optic nerves, but he’s a reviewer. Criticism is a different bit altogether, one based on both the critic’s voice and their expertise. Before several Yahtzee-hater’s flame me for saying he’s expert at what he does, I’ll remind them that he can at least finish the games he reviews. Can, and in some cases does not choose to for toe-curling awfulness or mind-numbing length. No, Yahtzee’s job is to point out each and every flaw in each and every game to remind game developers that there is at least one man out there who won’t put up with their committee approved, safely designed pablum. Also, he swears a bunch, and has found a way to do it without it ever getting old.
This rating will be controversial, but remember I watch for the humour. On that alone, Yahtzee has rarely wavered. FOUR STARS
Yahtzee Croshaw also publishes a weekly supplement to ZP entitled Extra Punctuation, that provides a less humour-based, more thought-out expansion on one point from his previous critique. Check it out some time!
REVIEW: Extra Credits (the thinking man’s overtalker!)
The second series I started watching at the escapist was almost entirely by accident. Remember Extra Punctuation? Well, one week, I saw a series under Zero Punctuation labeled Extra Credits and I thought “Hey! [and then this part was almost entirely non-lingual, so bear with a translation] That series probably has several similarities in tone and content with Extra Punctuation and would thus be suited to my interests! I’m all for learning about games as an artistic medium from people who know what they’re talking about!” And boy, was I right. This series is perhaps one of my favourite web original series on video games, and it rarely gets into specifics. Brought to you by James Portnow (game developer and renaissance man extraordinaire, acting as writer), Daniel Floyd (current animator at Pixar Canada, scriptwriter and narrator) and Allison Theus (freelance artist, here providing… the… art), Extra Credits delves more deeply and more intelligently into games as art than anything else I’ve seen.
Every week, they publish a new episode that addresses some area of the industry. There have been episodes on Piracy, Amnesia and Story Structure, Narrative Mechanics, Achievements, Non-Combat Gaming. They also have two mailbag specials wherein the answer the questions most frequently asked by their fans. Their best episodes thus far are likely Sexual Diversity, “Gamer” and An Open Letter to EA Marketing. My favourite episode, though, was A Season of Hope–an episode dedicated to the Child’s Play charity set up by the dudes behind Penny Arcade. It’s a great Christmas episode about how, despite the fact that video games are blamed for most violent behaviour in children, the people behind them and the people in front of them are decent, hardworking artists who band together to help sick children in need. Just now I’m rewatching their episode Facing Controversy. It has a very important message for all of the people in the industry–in every industry. FOUR STARS
And now, the final series in this round-up, the last of the ones I’m discussing here today, and perhaps the toughest to defend from the point of view of these first two series:
REVIEW: Top 5 with Lisa Foiles (the palate cleanser!)
Like, uh. Hm. Well, if you’ve seen a single screenshot of this series, you pretty much know what it’s about. Lisa Foiles is a former (recovering) child star (from All That, right?) and, surprise, lifelong video game enthusiast. She’s also not a real blonde, as a cursory examination of her website will tell you. I don’t know why I mention that, but she does sometimes, so I feel justified. Her series, as summarized by one of her roommates in the intro to Top 5 Best Popular Songs, “it’s not perfect or even meant to be educational, it’s just kinda you, on camera, goin’ ‘bwaaah!’ for five minutes every week”. Despite the fact that this reduces her to tears, it’s a very accurate summary of this series. And that’s not a bad thing. Seriously.
It’s a light, breezy series starring a girl who cosplays at comic conventions and at least knows her stuff discussing the lighter, fluffier side of video games. And after getting your brow beaten in by Zero Punctuation and having your mindhole ripped by Extra Credits, it’s nice to sit back and relax, remember that sometimes, games are, y’know, fun. THREE AND A HALF STARS
And that about wraps us up this time at (I’m) Not a Fanboy. I am totally not looking for work writing in this industry. Seriously.