Archive for the 'video games' Category

Where are the sister series to 33 1/3?

or, “Let’s Build a Canon”

I’m a big fan of the 33 1/3 series of music-crit books published by Continuum Books. I appreciate the diversity of authors and approaches they’ve published, from book-length interviews to song-by-song analyses to New Journalistic anecdotes to short fiction to essays in aesthetics, written by everyone from Douglas Wolk to John Darnielle to Colin Meloy to Chris Weingarten to Dan Kois.

33 spines

Boing Boing commenter “Jack” has a great point:

…the concept has potential since in the MP3 world we live in it’s hard to have a physical connection with an album.

We really are physically disconnected from our media — not just music, but TV, video games, news, blogs, webcomics. If you’re like me, most of the stuff you consume is in digital form, and even that which isn’t ephemeral (a dwindling amount, as our media shift from our hard drives to the cloud) is still untouchable.

This is the appeal of the webcomic T-shirt — it’s a way to substantiate an insubstantial thing that we love. You can’t cuddle with your favorite characters, but you can have the next best thing. I’ve never actually owned a physical copy of Low, but I own Hugo Wilcken’s 33 1/3 book on Low, and that makes me feel — however irrationally — like I own it more than I would otherwise. I’ve demonstrated a commitment to it.

(I think of this as part of a larger pattern of active consumption, i.e. the set of actions that readers take in response to a work, as a way of “claiming” it. Fanfiction, mounted art & posters, cosplay, cover songs, claiming communities, shoutboxes, etc)

At any rate. Offworld linked to these sweet mock book covers by Olly Moss. They’re inspired by the staggeringly design-y design history of Penguin Books. I wish they were real.

GoldenEye by Olly Moss

GoldenEye by Olly Moss

And it got me thinking: why aren’t there little books, critical retrospectives, for video games? The potential audience is in the millions, and they’re eager for a tangible connection to the ephemeral electronic entertainments of their youth. You don’t need permission from the copyright holders.

The critical turf is a little different — as I understand it, video game history seems to be about a few gigantically popular games that become cultural touchstones for a generation, and then a second tier of considerably less popular games, and then the recognition level drops even more steeply. That’s probably changed somewhat as the industry has matured and widened, but this enterprise inherently needs a little distance — at least ten years since release. So you’re either facing the challenge of writing the definitive book on Mario 3, or you’re writing about Ghouls ‘n Ghosts and trying to sell enough copies to break even.

There’s an additional challenge, of course, because old games are generally “out of print” in a way that albums aren’t. Thank God that emulation is starting to make some older titles legally available via programs like Nintendo’s Virtual Console, but it’s not the same, is it? And for computer games… God help you if you want to play Warcraft II on a modern machine.

Legend of Zelda by Olly Moss

Legend of Zelda by Olly Moss

Still. I want a half-dozen 100-page books on my favorite half-dozen games. Call it D-Pad Books. Come on, world. Make it happen.

For that matter, where are the books on great movies? I know there are hundreds of books on Citizen Kane, but where is the 33 1/3 series for films? Hmm… a quick search reveals that Macmillan is doing it, with the BFI Film Classics series. And, uh, they have been for years, without me noticing. Whoops. Anybody have any experience with those?

(By the way, Olly’s also done some sweet vintage movie posters of modern movies.)

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Sic ’em up, li’l buddy

Click for full page

Sam & Max were a big part of my adolescence. I got The LucasArts Archives vol. 1 at age 10 or 11, after hearing my brother’s friends swap jokes from Sam & Max Hit the Road. I played Hit the Road for months and months, back during the Golden Age of Entertainment,* when I had the patience to do things like that.

A Max-head was the first avatar/icon I ever used on the internet. I still do, in certain places.

Somehow I got a copy of the comic collection, Surfin’ the Highway, and read it so much I internalized the damn thing. As the years went by, it disappeared — probably loaned to some miscreant friend, never to be seen again. A year or two ago, it was so out of print that copies were going for a hundred bucks on eBay.

So it’s great news that the Freelance Police are back. After years of aborted revival attempts at LucasArts, Steve Purcell was finally freed from his contract and signed with disgruntled ex-LucasArts programmers Telltale Games. Telltale (the folks who brought you the Bone games**) has been exploring new formats for videogames — releasing short games as “episodes” in a longer “season” or “series” — which I applaud even though I haven’t been motivated to plunk down the cash to try any of them. Diversity’s always a good thing, and I do have a soft spot for episodic fiction.

Anyway, I hadn’t realized this, but Telltale is not only producing a new line of S&M games (Season Two currently underway) and a weird, partially-animated webcomic… They’re also releasing a new edition of the original comics! Completely remastered and redesigned, the book looks great. I spotted the paperback edition last week at Cosmic Monkey Comics, but I just might hold out for the super sexy signed hardcover edition!

Telltale’s Emily Morganti has a neat blog post up explaining the process involved in creating the book. Like many reprint projects, it involved scanning the original film to a digital archive, plus touch-up work and reconstruction from second-generation copies when originals weren’t available. I was surprised to see a game publisher (a direct-download game publisher, at that) tackle a print project like this, and again surprised to see them pull it off so well. Hats off, and I hope they sell a million.

*Golden Age of Entertainment:
tom the dancing bug - when you were twelve

**Speaking of tapping into my childhood. Bone (via Disney Adventures) and Sam & Max are two of the reasons I work in comics today — and, I realize, two of the reasons why the division between “mainstream” and “indie” comics has never made sense to me.

wokka wokka

I have a great love for tiny little communities of clever people quietly reinventing underappreciated art forms. One such community that I’ve only just recently been introduced to is interactive fiction. What follows is hardly the artistic pinnacle of the form, but it’s funny as hell (and extremely reminiscent of the superhero deconstruction/parody genre which was so popular in the late 80s.).

This is the verbatim transcript of an IF game I recently played, written by God knows who.

Pac-Man was a junkie, eyes oozing pus, haunted by the ghosts of those he’d killed.

They called him Pac-Man because he was always packing heat, lightning-quick on the draw with a personal arsenal second to none. But today he woke up in an alley, all weapons missing but his mouth, an animal, starving hysterical naked, trapped in an unfamiliar maze of mean streets. Needing a fix. Needing a fix like nothing else.

And the ghosts are coming.

PAC-MAN
wokka wokka wokka!
Release 1 / Serial number 001029 / Inform v6.21 Library 6/10

Intersection
The streets are all the same, dark alleys with glowing borders keeping the riff-raff like the Pac-Man away from the Elect and their pleasure palaces. Here two of them cross, paths stretching into the darkness in all four directions known to mankind.

“Need to get well,” Pac-Man mutters, shivering. “I just need to get well.”

There is a food dot here.

> eat food dot
Pac-Man chokes down the food dot.

> east

Alley
The streets are all the same, this one constrained to east and west. Pac-Man is tense, his finely honed instincts telling him to get through here fast, that there’s no side exit to duck into if there’s trouble. He learned THAT lesson back in Nam.

A pink ghost comes flying at Pac-Man out of the darkness!

> west
Normally Pac-Man would never run from anything, but right now he’s weak and unarmed and NEEDS to get well… he turns tail and makes a break for it.

Intersection
The streets are all the same, dark alleys with glowing borders keeping the riff-raff like the Pac-Man away from the Elect and their pleasure palaces. Here two of them cross, paths stretching into the darkness in all four directions known to mankind.

> north

Alley
The streets are all the same, this one constrained to north and south. Pac-Man is tense, his finely honed instincts telling him to get through here fast, that there’s no side exit to duck into if there’s trouble. He learned THAT lesson back in Nam.

A red ghost comes flying at Pac-Man out of the darkness!

> examine red ghost
This kid used to follow Pac-Man around, hence the name – Shadow. Runaway or something, looking for protection. Pac-Man didn’t need that kind of crap, so after a few warnings – and he NEVER give warnings – he introduced the kid to his .38.

The red ghost comes closer, ever closer. “YOU KILLED ME,” it hisses. “NOW PAY THE PRICE!”

> south
Normally Pac-Man would never run from anything, but right now he’s weak and unarmed and NEEDS to get well… he turns tail and makes a break for it.

Intersection

> west

Alley
The streets are all the same, this one constrained to east and west. Pac-Man is tense, his finely honed instincts telling him to get through here fast, that there’s no side exit to duck into if there’s trouble. He learned THAT lesson back in Nam.

An orange ghost is sprawled here, oblivious to the world.

> examine ghost
This guy they called Pokey, owing to his penchant for needle drugs. The nickname worked a couple different ways. When he had a bunch of that shit in his system he was the slowest of slowpokes – it’d take him half an hour to stumble across the room to answer the damn phone. And then there were his arms – back when he had arms – pockmarked with scars from pokings past, pokings from a syringe he’d nicknamed Sue. A couple times Pac-Man had found him going through his shit looking for some cash to make a score, and let it go with a kick or a pistol-whipping; this last time, though, he’d had too much, and plugged him with a .357.

> west

Paradise
And then it happens.

Pac-Man rubs the thick yellow slime from his eyes in disbelief as an angel descends from Heaven above, halo replaced by a bright red bow, and presents him with his fix, his medicine, his freaking SALVATION – and then she is gone, but her glow remains, street bright as day with celestial light. He weeps at the beauty of the power pill.

There is a power pill here.

> eat power pill
Pac-Man eats the power pill.

He hears a screech as the celestial orbs whirling in their spheres grind to a halt, observing a perfect moment of stillness.

Then it begins.

The lights the sounds the music the rush the tingling in his skin the beating of his heart the curtain peeled back the guts of the machine the bits the phosphors the world the world the WORLD

The ghosts are upon him but Pac-Man is a GOLDEN GOD and he will eat them again and again and again WORLD WITHOUT END eyes flying celestial substance blue like Krishna sucked back into the matrix that is he and he alone the SUN OF GOD

And thus does he fly high above the maze on wings of energy leaving behind the filth of the mundane and thus ever and ever shall he transcend, TRANSCEND…

*** Pac-Man has GOTTEN WELL ***


Leigh Walton talks comics and maybe other arts. (RSS)
He also works for the very excellent publisher Top Shelf Productions (which does not necessarily endorse the views and opinions, etc, herein).

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Header by me. Contains an interpolation of the final panel from All-Star Superman #1 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. Speaking of which.