Gaming Culture Archive

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Verses Mode: What can poetry do for video games?

We speak to the editors of two new books about what's to be gained from the meeting of two artforms.

Who is your favourite version of Lara Croft right now? The cartoon star of Temple of Osiris, with her bubblegum-blue leotard, or the 2013 reboot's bedraggled gap year student? For me it's neither. I'm much more taken with the Lara Croft of Melissa Lee-Houghton's "Hot Pursuit", which introduces the final section of video game poetry anthology Coin Opera 2: Fulminaire's Revenge. Largely, that's because this incarnation of Lara won't do what she's told. Lee-Houghton portrays the character as neither an instrument of the player's will nor a swashbuckling heroine, but a kind of wayward protégé who must be laboriously won round if any progress is to be made.

Atari: Game Over review

Myth understanding.

Your reaction to this brisk documentary will depend largely on your feelings regarding the Atari 2600. If the thought of that console makes you weep tears of salty nostalgic joy, then you'll be in heaven. If you weren't a kid in America in the early 1980s then you'll find it interesting, if a little odd.

For the most part, documentaries about video games can be split into two camps. On the one hand, the likes of King of Kong, Chasing Ghosts and Ecstasy of Order take a nostalgic look at the surviving remnants of a dead culture, while on the other, films like Free to Play, Indie Game: the Movie and Second Skin look to showcase a niche interest that still burns brightly and bring that world to a wider audience.

The last arcade

From the archive: Salvaging London's lost video game amusements.

Every Sunday we present a feature from our archives, either for you to discover for the first time or read again. This week it's Simon Parkin's report from the Heart of Gaming, perhaps London's last true arcade. If you're looking for something to do to while away the rest of summer, it's worth noting the Heart of Gaming is still going strong and is well worth a visit.

Video Games: The Movie review

A star-studded crowdfunded documentary makes a poor case for gaming's cultural legitimacy.

Who remembers that classic documentary, Music: The Movie? Or Books: The Movie, and it's rather meta follow-up, Movies: The Movie? They don't exist, of course, because those are such broad concepts that the idea of encapsulating them in a single 90 minute film is madness. Instead, documentary makers covering those media wisely focus on specific periods, genres, or tell the story of unique creations and the innovators who brought them to life.

Where literature and gaming collide

How games are mining literary sources of inspiration.

Game narratives tend to drink from a narrow pond; they swig space operas and Tolkien, swish them about their mouths and trickle them into rows of polished glasses.

Every step you take: The story of Minesweeper

Meeting the original minelayers, and those who keep sweeping.

You know Minesweeper, of course. It's video game wallpaper that's silently seeped into countless people's lives. Everyone can recount the basics; the left-mouse button reveals the contents of a tile whilst the right flags a tile as containing a mine. The levels vary from 8x8 grids up to huge 64x64 grids. There's the smiley face when you do well, the gasp of failure and the cross-eyed look of death when you fare slightly worse. The mechanical logic would make a chess grandmaster grin, while bold gamblers still chase quicker and quicker clearance times.

Taking arcades out of the underground

A report from the France's Stunfest, an open-armed event that embraces gaming's more hard-edged communities.

Arcade culture has, for years, occupied a strange position in the global gaming community's hive mind.

At the gates of Temple Studios: Where gaming and theatre collide

How Punchdrunk created a virtual world in the heart of central London.

The elevator door rattles open and you step tentatively into a dimly lit maze of cardboard boxes. The door crashes shut again, so you have little option but to wend your way through the boxes, the eerie strains of a nostalgic doo-wop ballad leading you on through the darkness. Then, all of a sudden you find yourself, blinking, in the middle of a town square. The mise-en-scène and music are pure 60s Americana. Wandering through the town you pass a Rockwellian drugstore, a dressmaker's haberdashery, a saddlery, an old-fashioned toyshop. Dozens of ghostly figures, their faces obscured behind white Venetian masks, drift past the trickling fountain in the middle of the square, each of them on their own unknowable mission. In the window of an abandoned TV repair shop, you catch sight of your own reflection and remember that, in this place, you too are a ghost.

Video games are huge, collaborative endeavours where many disparate arts come together to create a single entity for our enjoyment, and just as in theatre, cinema and television, developers have learnt of the power that music holds. Since the very earliest days of gaming composers have been striving to enhance our experiences with their skills, to excite us, to inspire us, to amuse us. Sadly this element of gaming is sometimes overlooked since, in the process of assessing games, there are so many parts to consider and, understandably, there's only a finite amount of space to examine them all. Priorities have to be assigned, and outside music-centric games like Guitar Hero or Lumines other elements usually take necessary precedence.

All is fair in love and Super Robot Wars

Dissecting the history of one of Japan's most enduring mecha series.

Back in 1991 the GameBoy was well into its swing, and all manner of new publishers were getting in on the action. Not wishing to miss a trick, Banpresto released a relatively small turn-based strategy game developed by a tiny studio by the name of winkysoft. It was called Super Robot Taisen (aka Super Robot Wars, or SRW for short).

The story behind Nintendo's detective

How Level-5 got Luke and Layton together.

Professor Layton sips tea from fine china and has a keen interest in archaeology. He enjoys fencing, displays a natural talent for puzzle solving, keeps a studious yet approachable demeanour (Layton became a professor at the age of 27) and wears a top hat that outlines a nobly Victorian silhouette. He is, in summary, a blend of kindly clichés drawn from literature, Hollywood and echoes of bygone eras. He's a hopeful tourist's idea of an Englishman. And yet, over the course of the six video games in which he stars, Professor Layton has revealed himself to be a great deal more than the sum of his well-worn, if well-meaning, clichés.

Need for Speed film review

Can Hollywood do what EA couldn't, and spin a story out of street racing?

From a gamer's perspective, Need for Speed seems an odd choice for a movie. In 20 years and as many games, EA's glossy, hyper-real street-racing series has never produced a character or storyline worth a damn, although it has tried - notably in 2011's misfire The Run and the horribly gauche live-action cut-scenes of 2005's Most Wanted. At their best, the games are thrilling entertainment, but it's of a kind that has next to nothing to do with cinema.

Kaz: Pushing the Virtual Divide review

This Sony-funded vanity doc about Mr Gran Turismo is more than a puff piece - but only just.

At first glance, you'd think this documentary film about Polyphony Digital founder Kazunori Yamauchi is just artfully disguised marketing for Gran Turismo. That's because your first glance is of the words "Sony Computer Entertainment presents"; it is just disguised marketing, part of Sony's promo blowout celebrating the series' 15th anniversary and the release of GT6. But that doesn't mean the film doesn't have an interesting subject and a few things to say, although it has some trouble articulating them.

The first time I visited Hong Kong was in 1987. The ferry rocked into port, foghorn blaring as the city stirred beneath a greasy morning smog. After setting foot on the dock I was dragged into a ten-dollar arm wrestling match by a seamy congregation wearing wife beaters and sucking on cheap cigarettes. Moments later my bag was stolen, prompting me into an amateur parkour trip down alleyways in a bid to retrieve it. No dice. If only I'd taken up an offer ten minutes earlier to pawn all my stuff.

You are the hero: A history of Fighting Fantasy

Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone on creating a page-turning legend.

Choice is a powerful thing. It's what differentiates video games from other mediums of entertainment. Outside of watching alternative endings on DVD, the outcome of a movie cannot be influenced by the viewer; likewise, a great album's track listing can be randomised, but the songs remain the same. In games, the player is able to directly impact the world with their own actions. This liberating and intoxicating sense of involvement was also central to the appeal of Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone's Fighting Fantasy line of interactive gamebooks, first established in 1982 - ironically, a time when the video game industry appeared to be tiptoeing dangerously close to oblivion.

Times are changing, Dylan used to sing, and nowhere more prominently than in the burgeoning People's Republic of China. Once slave to idealistic convention and crippled by economic famine, Deng Xiaoping's audacious reforms have seen the country achieve the world's second-largest economy in little more than three-decades.

The story of Yugoslavia's DIY computer revolution

Meet Galaksija, the wooden wonder computer.

In Yugoslavia in the 1980s, computers were a rare luxury. A ZX Spectrum or Commodore 64 could easily cost a month's salary, and that's if you could even get through the tough importation laws. Then in 1983, while on holiday in Risan, Voja Antonić dreamt up plans for a new computer, a people's machine that could be built at home for a fraction of the cost of foreign imports. The Galaksija was born, and with it a computer revolution.

Inside the toy box

Rediscovering the joy of play on a father-and-son visit to the home of the Skylanders.

"I've got a confession..."

Video game poetry collection heads to Kickstarter

"Producing books that engage with pop culture is a much more radical idea than it should be."

Jon Stone and Kirsten Irving hope to spend £1500 of your money on Swedish Munken paper. Lovely, sensuous Swedish Munken... Wait, what is that exactly?

Hale to the Commander

Jennifer Hale speaks about her two decades voice-acting, fame and garnering respect in games.

Jennifer Hale has appeared in 142 games in a career that stretches back to the 16-bit era, a time when voice acting in games was just a scratchy novelty. She's had a major role in games that have defined this generation (including one of its most spectacular trilogies), and is half of an unforgettable double-act in one of 2013's most thought-provoking games, BioShock Infinite.

The legend of Nave, the Argentinian arcade cabinet

How two friends rediscovered the arcades in Buenos Aires.

Finding an arcade game in the wild anywhere in the world is reason enough for celebration, be it a tired-looking Neo Geo cabinet too bulky for anyone to bother moving that's resolute in the corner of a chippie or a Numan Athletics that sits unplayed in a run-down casino, cast in the dreary blinking light of a dozen fruit machines. If you ever manage to stumble upon a Nave cabinet, however, consider it a red-letter day: there's only one in existence, and it's never ventured beyond the borders of Argentina.

Street Fighter 2: The Movie review

Lights, camera, hadouken! The 1994 anime gets a Blu-ray release.

Street Fighter 2: The Animated Movie, as it was originally known, concludes with an advertisement. Following the closing credits, we're told of a forthcoming live action movie based on the same game. "JEAN CLAUDE VAN DAMME" it exclaims in monolithic all caps, before revealing, with almost childlike boastfulness: "NOW FILMING IN HOLLYWOOD". Capcom's bragging notice, usefully included in this remastered re-release of the 1994 film, provides valuable context. Here is a game-maker riding a crest of popularity, now promoter to a clutch of video game characters who have broken out of, not only their home country, but also their medium. Street Fighter's going to Hollywood. Imagine.

Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn review

Does Microsoft's low budget, live action web series work as a standalone DVD release?

One of the biggest surprises - if not the only surprise - of Microsoft's Xbox One announcement was the revelation that Halo is being adapted into a TV show by none other than Steven Spielberg. As big name endorsements go, they don't come much bigger - even if any excitement must be tempered by the fact that Spielberg's sci-fi TV ventures tend to be a lot less illustrious than his movies. Falling Skies is a hit, but did anyone stick around to see how his critically panned Terra Nova series ended? And does anyone even remember his UFO saga, Taken?

100 Yen: The Japanese Arcade Experience review

This indie documentary film is an affectionate tribute that sadly short changes its subject.

There's something overwhelming about setting foot in one of Tokyo's video game arcades: first the wall of noise hits you, followed by the cool stale air and then the blasts of colour and movement that sit beyond row upon row of players sitting perfectly still. Japanese arcades have weathered the industry's many storms, and even though that's left them looking a little dog-eared, they continue to be busy and exciting destinations.

Capturing the dragon: the music of Jeremy Soule

One of the industry's leading composers on classical influences, taking over YouTube, Kickstarting a symphony and the meaning of life.

It could've been over-inflated tyres combined with the rain on the road and a rogue gust of wind coming in off the Pacific Ocean, but the exact cause of the accident may never be known. Regardless, as Jeremy Soule's car hydroplaned into the oncoming traffic on Insterstate 5 that night, as the headlights rushed out of the darkness towards him and as his car began to roll, the only thought in his mind was that he didn't want anyone else to be hurt.

Defiance TV pilot review

Syfy's tie-in with the new online game is a bold move, but is the show itself playing it too safe?

Editor's note: Our review of Defiance, the game, released last week, is currently underway; as with all massively multiplayer games, we only review from public servers after launch, and take our time. In the meantime, here's a look at the first episode of the TV show that ties in with it, due to hit screens next week.

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