The best games writing from around the web.
The Weekly is your round-up of all the best in games writing and related spaces. Reviews, news, features, and more await you each week as the curators of Good Games Writing scour the Internet for the best of the best. Some themes are for older audiences.
The sheer number of game releases, DLC drops, and console news has meant the games media has been humming along over the past couple of weeks. Buried within the standard fare, however, is a fair share of good games writing.
REVIEWS & CRITICISM
We anticipate there won’t be a shortage of quality reviews and criticism from here through Christmas–new games are releasing en masse with no shortage on the horizon. This section isn’t exclusively dedicated to new games, though, as this piece on Signs of the Sojourner talks itself into the round-up.
Writing for Into the Spine, Phillip Russell uses his own experience moving across the United States to explain the game’s conversational mechanics, connecting the emotional payoffs within the game to his own life.
Zsolt David also makes the case that quality criticism isn’t tied to the newest games. Writing on Skyrim, David situates us in what we’ll call the parable of the mountain: See that mountain there? You can hike it, or, so the story goes…
The piece is a reflection on and celebration of “the mountain” in Skyrim: the memeing, the remixing, remastering, and rebranding. It’s a wonderful piece that’s as much about the mountain as it is our fascination with the biggest games in existence.
Calling Amnesia: Rebirth an “unabashedly and staunchly feminine title“, Khee Hoon Chan deftly balances explaining the new aspects of the game (among them, a bevy of cutscenes) with respecting the audience’s need to know as little as possible. Indeed, one of our chief concerns with horror reviews in general is it’s enticing to give away details of the narrative, a decision that can inadvertently wreck the experience for the audience. This is a masterwork in giving just enough while gushing with praise.
Games inspired by and in the mold of the classic Rogue are all the rage right now. Don’t believe us? Check out this trio of Niota reviews. At Fanbyte, Diego Arguello notes the game “constantly surprises you with unpredictable moments” as the player weighs assured safety vs potentially high rewards. Acid, shotguns, and teleportation awaits.
At Critical Hit, Brad Lang also digs into the experimental nature of the game–that is to say, the fact it wants the player to experiment with everything–noting it embraces chaos in every part of its design. While this is a perfectly capable review it feels like Graham Smith’s take on RPS is the big brother to it, making many of the same arguments on how the game channels chaos while relishing in the chance to share moments with you. If Smith’s is a novel you plan to sit with, Lang’s is the Reader’s Digest Condensed take, both solid works serving different audiences.
If only there was another roguelike to discuss: oh, there it is, Hades, lurking about on your Switch. More than any other game of late, Hades is inspiring wonderful criticism of both its mechanics and narrative. Paste published two such pieces recently: Holly Green tackles what it means to fail in the game–any game, for that matter–delighting in the awareness Hades has in its formula.
Funké Joseph, meanwhile, praises the game’s God Mode, a take on classic easy modes that buffs you in new ways each run, reminding us that it’s okay to enjoy games however we please. Plus, this is the most interesting implementation of such a mode we’ve heard of in some time!
A little bit of inside baseball is featured in a pair of posts by Luke Shaw: The connective tissue of these pieces is a detailed and nuanced discussion of Hades as it relates to other roguelikes, helping establish its place in the, erm, Parthenon of the genre.
Not that we needed the reminder, but Grace Curtis opines that hunks are fun and we should embrace the trope when we see it. Not sure what a hunk is? We dig this definition, ala Curtis: “the fantasy of a man who is at once impossibly sexy and completely non-threatening”. Bring on the hunks!
CHECK THIS OUT
We’re huge fans of Game Query and its latest issue has dropped for the low low low price of free. Pieces on Animal Crossing, Persona 5, Mass Effect, and one of the creepiest looking horror experiences we’ve come across are contained within. This is good games writing in its purest form and the entire issue is our read of the week.
Threads is an irregular segment where we find pieces, social media posts, blogs, and more that spark greater conversations within our team.
On the lighter side…
We’ve been debating what makes a Star Wars space-fighter sim? Is combat king? Realism? What systems must be in place? Who should be represented? Star Wars Squadrons has certainly weighed in on several of these questions. We appreciated Cole Henry’s essay on playing support–interestingly, all three of our curators play a similar role, so that’s weird–and the personal connections he shares in detailing his playstyle.
After I helped one of those fans, they relayed to the team that there was a support player in the match. One of the folks in the squad broke off from combat to trail me, providing me the cover and support that my ship lacked. It was a small thing, but it made a difference.
It’s a reminder that we’re all in this together, certainly, but it also serves as a reminder that games that allow us to fulfill the roles we want to play are the ones that forge the best experiences.
At Dicebreaker, George Baker makes the case that virtual worlds aren’t necessary for such experiences, arguing that X-Wing is ostensibly the tabletop equivalent of Star Wars Squadrons. We know what we’re playing next…
On the heavier side…
Our longtime friend Brendan Caldwell has written an extensive piece about angering a segment of the Final Fantasy XIV fanbase and the resultant abuse:
The article I wrote ended on its predicted positive note: “When I think of Final Fantasy XIV from now on,” I wrote later from a hotel room, from an airplane, from above the wastes of Greenland, “I’ll remember the namazu.” (That is, the large, odd creature of fishmyth) “It’s big, it’s slightly unsettling, and I don’t really understand it. But it makes a lot of people smile.” … This is no longer true. Within a week, my defining memorial association with Final Fantasy XIV had become the dog pile, the hate tweets, the froth, the suicide encouragement.
We want to be clear here: Caldwell’s experiences are not unique. Women, people of colour, and other marginalized communities regularly suffer such abuse, often for no reason, online and in person. We stand opposed to all those that spew hatred. We look forward to a time where these aren’t the types of stories that we’re reading from people but we know that doesn’t come without a lot of work.
It’s one reminder that more work has to be done: Todd Harper offers another as he explores the deeply rooted sexism of GameFAQs. If that site and its culture is baked into this medium’s fabric–make no mistake, it is–then so, too, is the sexism it helped usher in.
Aiden Strawhun’s masterlist of resources for supporting #BlackLivesMatter, escaping (and supporting those escaping) domestic abuse, dealing with COVID-19, how not to be an asshole, and much more is essential reading this and every week.
ODDS & ENDS
Alas, our final segment, rich in all the good micronutrients one can require, and none of the bad.
We begin with this casual audiences video explaining Among Us to those that have only heard of it because AOC made international headlines playing it for the biggest audience Twitch has ever seen.
Over on Start Menu, Will Sawyer reflects on the 10 year anniversary of Halo: Reach, an instalment that is oft maligned for the ways in which it defies its own conventions. He asks the question: ‘why isn’t modern Halo like this?’
We’ve been obsessing over Button City ever since we saw it in the Wholesome Games livestream this summer. Alyssa Wejebe interviews the team behind the game about their approach to presenting the game at this year’s (all virtual PAX) and their take on the physical goods they didn’t get to release this year. Their approach? Innovative to say the least.
Folk music is one thing but folk games are a different beast altogether. Rebekah Valentine’s interview with dev team Land & Sea explains their vision of what “folk” games are, and, no, they’re not indie.
Land & Sea is currently working on one, and though the team isn’t giving any detail yet, Nesbitt describes the idea of a folk game as a “shared sensibility” through the things the team is drawn to, or games that have a kind of “earthy quality.”
Finally, Michael Weber continues to cover the intersection of music and games, and his interviews with the composers behind Destiny 2 and Divinity: Original Sin II reminds us of a major feat for game composers: Creating tunes that adjust to the player’s actions. It’s a fascinating read.
PROGRAMMING NOTE: For the next few weeks we’ll continue to post on Mondays instead of the weekends. Thanks for tuning in each Monday morning to start your work and school weeks!
Arguello, Diego. “Noita Is a Huge Playground That Rewards My Most Creatively Stupid Ideas” (Fanbyte: October 15, 2020) <www.fanbyte.com/reviews/noita-is-a-huge-playground-that-rewards-my-most-creatively-stupid-ideas/>.
Baker, George. “X-Wing’s thrilling space combat is the perfect tabletop answer to Star Wars: Squadrons” (Dicebreaker: October 15, 2020) <www.dicebreaker.com/games/star-wars-x-wing-miniatures-game/opinion/star-wars-x-wing-space-combat-squadrons>.
Caldwell, Brendan. “The dog pile: How I Infuriated A Few Hundred Final Fantasy Fourteen Fans To Death Threat Levels” (October 21, 2020) <brendycaldwell.com/2020/10/21/the-dog-pile-how-i-infuriated-a-few-hundred-final-fantasy-fourteen-fans-to-death-threat-levels/>.
Chan, Khee Hoon. “Amnesia: Rebirth Review: A Different Kind of Horror” (USGamer: October 19, 2020) <www.usgamer.net/articles/amnesia-rebirth-review>.
Curtis, Grace. “Hades Reminds Us That, Now More Than Ever, the World Needs Hunks” (Fanbyte: October 23, 2020) <www.fanbyte.com/features/hades-reminds-us-that-now-more-than-ever-the-world-needs-hunks/>.
Damigella, Rick. “Game On: AOC streams viral hit game ‘Among Us'” (CNN, video, October 23, 2020) <www.cnn.com/videos/entertainment/2020/10/23/game-on-aoc-streams-viral-hit-game-among-us.cnn>.
David, Zsolt. “We’re All Todd Howards Climbing Mountains in the Hyperreality of Skyrim” (Fanbyte: October 23, 2020) <www.fanbyte.com/features/were-all-todd-howards-climbing-mountains-in-the-hyperreality-of-skyrim/>.
Green, Holly. “How Hades Makes The Case For Failure” (Paste: October 19, 2020) <www.pastemagazine.com/games/hades/hades-and-failure/>.
Harper, Todd. “In Early GameFAQs, the Subtext Was Often Sexism” (Vice: October 14, 2020) <www.vice.com/en/article/935eka/in-early-gamefaqs-the-subtext-was-often-sexism>.
Henry, Cole. “Star Wars: Squadrons makes support roles feel rewarding” (Polygon: October 22, 2020) <www.polygon.com/2020/10/22/21527439/star-wars-squadrons-support-healer>.
Joseph, Funké. “Hades’ God Mode Is My Best Friend” (Paste: October 21, 2020) <www.pastemagazine.com/games/hades/hades-god-mode/>.
Lang, Brad. “Noita Review–Pixel me this!” (Critical Hit: October 19, 2020) <www.criticalhit.net/gaming/noita-review-pixel-me-this/>.
Sawyer, Will. “Classic Comeback | Halo: Reach” (Start Menu: October 22, 2020) <www.startmenu.co.uk/home/classic-comeback-halo-reach>.
Shaw, Luke. “Two Short Pieces on Hades and its Narrative and Mechanical Success” (Medium: September 23, 2020) <medium.com/@Tempy/two-short-pieces-on-hades-and-its-narrative-and-mechanical-success-2e4633c5338c>.
Smith, Graham. “Noita review” (Rock, Paper, Shotgun: October 16, 2020) <www.rockpapershotgun.com/2020/10/16/noita-review/>.
Valentine, Rebekah. “Land & Sea spins the folklore of fictional worlds” (GamesIndustry.biz: October 9, 2020) <www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2020-10-09-land-and-sea-spins-the-folklore-of-fictional-worlds>.
Weber, Michael. “How Composers Shape The Sounds Of Our Digital Universes” (The Indie Game Website: October 22, 2020) <www.indiegamewebsite.com/2020/10/22/how-composers-shape-the-sounds-of-our-digital-universes/>.
Wejebe, Alyssa. “Building an Arcade in Button City” (Unwinnable: October 8, 2020) <unwinnable.com/2020/10/08/building-an-arcade-in-button-city/>.