Onward and eastward

PixelVixen707 » 26 July 2009 » In personal » 24 Comments

So, my bad for leaving this fallow for the last month.  A lot’s been happening at my end.

I’ve decided to take a break from writing.  My Suicide Girls column is off - they’re cutting non-interview content - and I’ve been taking a break from everything else to regroup and plan my next move.

But. I will be keeping busy. An opportunity came up to go to Japan for the rest of the year, to teach English and hang out in arcades. I’ve never been on that side of Pacific, and I don’t speak the language. I couldn’t be more psyched.

Thanks to all of you for welcoming me into the brainysphere community and swapping ideas and arguments here on my blog. I’m truly going to miss the friendships I made on here, and I’m grateful you all spent time here and played along.

Yours/Love always,


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Final Fantasy VII: An Open Letter to Aeris Gainsborough

PixelVixen707 » 26 June 2009 » In games » 14 Comments

Dear Aeris,

What can I say but … sorry?

I’m sorry I led you to your death. Sorry your not-mom’s grieving you, too. I’m sorry we only got to have the one date, and that Tifa put the mack on me just days after your untimely death. (We do go back a ways - I’m sure you’ll understand.)

Most of all, I’m sorry that my mortal enemy came jumping out of the sky with a giant fender-sized limb-chopper and skewered you with one blow, leaving your lifeless, perma-dead corpse sprawled on the floor, like a flower under a boot, a star fallen from the sky. The one pure thing in this whole dag-bummed game is lost.

On the other hand? Let’s face it, Aeris. You were not my favorite sidekick. In fact, I really didn’t like you at all.

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Artsy-Fartsy Indie Auteur Sells Out - Thank God

PixelVixen707 » 24 June 2009 » In Commentary, games » 9 Comments

Calls of “sell-out” – few, and mild, but real – hit the web this week with the news that indie auteur Jason Rohrer, maker of sensitive allegorical titles like Passage or Gravitation, had inked a deal with a leading interactive ad firm, Tool of North America. Most folks were understanding: Rohrer needs the money. He has survived on little money and a sponsorship deal while building a career and a family of four. At the same time, Rohrer’s defection to the world of Mad Men hits a sore spot for the fledgling indie community. While it’s pretty clear that, definitionally, Rohrer has sold out, indie gamers have never taken a moment to figure out if “selling out” is bad - and how they should do business in the first place.

If you don’t know Rohrer from his games or his fabulous Esquire profile, let me introduce you. Rohrer makes simple, short games in a lo-res pixelated art style. His best-known ones are simple but captivating allegories for human experiences: Gravitation models the process of creativity; Passage is nothing less than a simulation of an entire human life from birth, to (maybe) marriage, to death, with memories of the past and roads not taken always on the edge of the game window. Rohrer’s work is popular and not a little twee – he makes Wes Anderson look like a thug – but it’s definitely “artistic,” and so is its maker. I didn’t get a chance to speak with Rohrer at this year’s Game Developer Conference, but I saw him at the expo, and can vouch for his charisma. He’s tall and electrified, with passionate eyes that convey unfakable enthusiasm for his craft. People with day jobs don’t have eyes like that.

But Rohrer has a family to feed. And in indie gaming, that’s tough.

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Minds Of Their Own

PixelVixen707 » 21 June 2009 » In Commentary » 14 Comments

Browsing through Zach’s latest stack of comic pick-ups, I stumbled across a new title: Unwritten, a kind of Pinocchio-via-Harry Potter story out now from Vertigo. The book starts in the middle of a fantasy story. A bunch of wizard kids are trapped by a villain, and their ringleader, Tommy Taylor uses a spell that seems to transport him … to the real world?

Characters who leave the page, the stage, or the picture frame and come to life are not a new idea. But Unwritten puts a little bit of a spin on it by letting the characters bring themselves to life. You can imagine that there they are, in a book about magic, finding a magic so powerful that they can propel themselves off the page - our dreams coming to life whether we want them to or not. The comic itself is the story of the grown-up Tommy Taylor. Real-world Tommy is a kid whose dad wrote those books, and based the hero on his son. But now Tommy’s starting to wonder if he’s not the inspiration for the hero, but the hero himself, come to life.

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Suicide Girls Column: The Worlds of Tim Schafer

PixelVixen707 » 18 June 2009 » In games » 3 Comments

Who doesn’t love Tim Schafer? Not me. I can critique Psychonauts, and I can be cautiously “rah rah rah” about the upcoming Brütal Legend. But my complaints come from love. It’s like going up to your favorite uncle or way-older boyfriend and flicking a spot off his tie. We judge because we love.

This week’s column uses the upcoming release of Brütal Legend to jump into a retrospective of Psychonauts and Grim Fandango, and to look at one of the few creators in the biz who clearly puts content at the top of his list of priorities. I lean more ludologist than narratologist, myself - I only talk about content so much ’cause, I dunno, it’s like hashing over the lyrics of a song because there’s only so much you can say about how much you love the melody. But with Schafer, you come for the content. And the yuks:

The humor that he and his team bring to their games is surprisingly broad and all-ages, without crossing the line to “corny.” The jokes are witty but heartfelt, and they’re free of geek-bait, fan service, or other short-lived references. They reflect a creator who’s not in love with his jokes, but with his worlds.

So go ahead, check it out.

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Final Fantasy VII: Lumpy Old World

PixelVixen707 » 17 June 2009 » In games » 7 Comments

(Fan art by JammerLea)

We have to find Sephiroth.

When I took my first steps onto FF VII’s world map, I saw endless fields of grass - plain, flat grass that didn’t even sway, stretching as far as the screen could see. I’m finally out in the world, and this is it?

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Final Fantasy VII, Finally

PixelVixen707 » 14 June 2009 » In games » 17 Comments

When I was 17 I didn’t have much time for video games - or at least, I had as much time for games as I had for anything. My “friends” and I would play whatever sports, fighting or Sonic games we had, bitching and switching from one to the next until we had a big enough fight about what to play and then went out to get in more trouble. Point being, the lengthy crawls of late ’90s RPGs are totally lost on me. The idea of sticking with anything for 50+ hours was anathema.

That’s my excuse for why it took me this long to play perennial canon-bait Final Fantasy VII.

This month, the PS 1 game finally came to the PlayStation store, where it’s downloadable to the PSP or PS 3. I grabbed a copy - $10, cheap - and I’m playing it on the PSP, aka “the forgotten handheld,” just to give it something to do.

And you can guess the first thing that everyone tells me - gamer friends, Twitter pals, and random strangers on the subway: “You know what happens in Final Fantasy VII, right?”

If you have somehow stayed unspoiled for the last 12 years, don’t read past the jump.

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IGN and District 9 Don’t Need Women in the Audience

PixelVixen707 » 12 June 2009 » In Commentary » 9 Comments

UPDATE 6/13: Commenter dante just noticed that the ad’s been changed, and women are now eligible to apply, and have two more weeks to file.  Nice!

ORIGINAL POST: It’s easy to take things out of context on the ‘net. So I was too charitable when I saw this ad at IGN, advertising a sweepstakes where one lucky guy could report from the San Diego Comic Con. I say “guy,” because that’s what the ad asked for: entrants had to be 18-24 and male. Girls need not apply.

When I first saw the ad, someone suggested that they might be doing a casting call of some kind, and maybe there was a legit reason to restrict this to boys. But IGN has replied (via Johanna Draper and Torie Atkinson):

The eligibility requirements for this contest were determined by Columbia TriStar Marketing, the marketing team behind the District 9 film, and were passed on as a directive to IGN as Sponsor of this particular Sweepstakes running on the IGN.com site. While IGN supports gamers of all ages, genders, shapes and sizes, these guidelines were created to foster a buzz for the film among a very narrow target group that the film’s promoters felt would be extremely passionate about the film’s subject matter.

I’m guessing if IGN took those gamers of all ages, genders, shapes, and sizes seriously, they would never have run the ad. Or they’d admit they fucked up and apologize.

So if women aren’t the “target group” - very narrow or not - for this film, then there’s a simple free market solution here. If you’re a woman, or you know any women whose taste you respect? Don’t see District 9. And if you think IGN should grow up and apologize? Don’t read IGN. (That won’t kill you, believe me.)

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Suicide Girls Column: Blueberry Garden

PixelVixen707 » 10 June 2009 » In games » 7 Comments

This week at Suicide Girls I wrote up Blueberry Garden - but before I got into the game, I added a preamble about indie games writ large, and why I like ‘em. The SG audience is heavily alternative, underground, and indie.  I wasn’t sure they needed a pep talk.  But I suspect that the indie gaming scene doesn’t have the same penetration as say, music or movies.

Yes, everyone at the GDC this year couldn’t help but notice the mini-Woodstock going down at the Independent Games Festival kiosks on the expo floor. Spottings of Petri Purho and Jason Rohrer were cause for whipping out of camera phones and autograph books. (Okay, that’s hyperbole. But check out Purho in a diaper.)

But even though a few games catch buzz - Crayon Physics Deluxe, Flower, Braid, Castle Crashers - the scene as a whole is hard to follow. I’m not your Hip Indie Queen by any stretch, but I’ll tell you what I read to keep up with what’s coming out:

  • Offworld - A great gaming culture blog that catches lots of indies, especially on the iPhone.
  • GameTunnel - The monthly round-ups are indispensible. These guys fall in love with lots of stuff the other blogs miss.
  • PlayThisThing - Awesome, witty write-ups on a new game every day. Patrick Dugan (the99th) is sharp, and not too pretentious; and Greg Costikyan is a must-read, plus an old hand at board games.
  • TIGSource and IndieGames.com - Essential, but insidery. Once you’ve gotten your feet wet with the others, these will be your daily must-reads.

Even by indie game standards, Blueberry Garden is pretty damn indie - as Steve Gaynor put it, it screams indie gaming bingo. But it’s original and quizzical and it’s only $5. Give it a whirl.

And when you make it to the secret winners-only page on Erik Svedang’s website, be sure to say hi!

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Starting a Game Blog 101

PixelVixen707 » 08 June 2009 » In personal » 11 Comments

(Photo by Welcometoalville)

I still remember the night, about a year and a half ago. Zach and I huddled at my laptop. My first 600 words or so of games writing, honed through draft after draft after draft and adorned with a pic I grabbed off Google Images, sat ready to go live. I just had to hit the button marked “Publish.”

“Do it, Rach,” Zach urged, hand on my shoulder. “Put it out there.”

I hesitated - pinky on Enter, mouse finger shaking.

“C’mon Rach! The world needs this!”

“Well I doubt that,” I laughed. But I knew I needed it. So I hit the button.

Well, the world didn’t beat a path to my door - not right away. But I had started my blog, and it’s been nothing but win ever since.

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