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A Rant: Games Journalism and Reporting

This is an inside-baseball rant about my industry, and as such, most of it is behind the jump.

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Busy Week Recap

The past seven days of Sam Machkovech have been fruitful! Cheggit:

* Episode 3 of The Sam Machkovech Show w/ Stu Horvath, my podcast. (via Unwinnable)
* My game review of Aliens: Colonial Marines. (via Ars Technica)
* My not-quite-a-preview of new Bungie game Destiny. (via Ars Technica)
* Why last week’s Tesla Motors vs. New York Times debacle will eventually hamper the world of software criticism. (via Unwinnable)

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Antichamber Antireview

AntichamberIMG

I can’t remember exactly when I first sat with the video game Antichambersat with it, the imperative word. The game has guest-starred at indie/alt gaming events for a few years, looking like some art student’s shot at a first-person adventure. Every time, its public demo kiosk had a chair.

More so than a motion controller or a plastic guitar, this “peripheral”—the chair—fits perfectly with its host game. Even at the lights-and-sounds parade of a public gaming show, Antichamber distills your sensory threshold like a cup around a dog’s neck. Its mind-bending puzzles; its fantastic visual tricks. This game’s all you’re gonna do for a little while, now.

After 30 minutes, my progress attracted a crowd, who I also willfully ignored–up until a point. “Go away,” I told them. “Don’t look at this. Not yet.”

That’s still the appropriate review–this many years later, before I even begin playing the final retail version (I’m buying it right now, on the Steam download service, for $15). If you really need the prodding, Antichamber is a puzzle game that requires no instruction manual, no fancy computer, no intense, years-of-gaming learning curve. A refined experience for the CD-ROM generation. No gaming experience necessary. Be sure to pick the right chair.

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The Daily’s iOS/Console Games of the Year 2012

Note: Tablet magazine The Daily closed its publishing doors for good this weekend, and a few articles wound up unpublished along the way. One of those was my Best Games of 2012 piece, so I reworked the text. If you have come here from The Daily‘s Twitter feed, thanks for reading my reviews there, and I’ll keep you in the loop as I continue to write mainstream-friendly looks at gaming from an adult, indie-minded point of view. I won’t force hipster gaming down your throat, but I won’t blindly kiss Call of Duty’s butt, either. See ya soon. -SM


Light the fireplace, top off the nog and sneak a controller (or iPad) beneath the blanket. The year’s best in video games will keep you warm through the winter.

CONSOLE/PC

Game of the Year: Dishonored

Dishonored could’ve been a disaster of ambition, but its promise of deadly, sneaky power is as impressive as it is competent. The game has the technical chops to not to cheat players out of a good hiding strategy—a deal-breaker for this genre—then goes over the top by doling out a bag of magical tricks and a substantial set of branching, “play how you want” paths. In spite of so many variables, this dense, thrilling first-person espionage game never breaks. It knows its boundaries, then rewards fans for pushing them.

 

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Review: Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale

The sales pitch for fighting game Super Smash Bros. changed dramatically once fans finally got to play it. In the late ’90s, “Mario beating the crap out of Pikachu” had a nice ring to it, especially for aging fans ready to reject Nintendo’s pastel-cute style, but that melted away once the game’s “party-fighting” system made itself apparent. With more friends on the screen at once, every button and control needed updating, and Smash Bros. nailed the concept—and with no peer or forebear. Mario vs. Pikachu, or amorphous polygon blob vs. taller blob; either way, the ruckus stood the test of time.

Quite frankly, it’s a better kind of fighting game, converting other series’ convoluted maneuvers into simple, directional taps. Quick or “fierce,” normal or special, this way or that–it’s all done elegantly. For punches to the face, anyway.

PSBR Trailer

Nobody has copied this in the years since (Power Stone 2 does not count, sorry) until this week. Sony stepped up to try the same four-player fighting formula, going so far as to name-check Smash Bros. in the giant press packet I was sent with my copy of—all together now—Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale. How much you like their stab really depends on what part of Smash Bros. you bought into in the first place, because Battle Royale is certainly a case of one step forward, one step back.
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Game review: Dishonored

(reprinted from The Daily)

Dishonored to meet you
Survive the bubonic plague in the best stealthy video game in years
BY SAM MACHKOVECH
 

Dishonored
Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Genre: Stealth FPS
Price: $59.99
Available: Now

 
The skinny: Dishonored might have the most off-putting video game mascot of all time: a bubonic rat. Technically, this sneak-and-strike game has a ton of rats who skulk around the wrecked byways and sewers of an alternate universe’s industrial revolution, and to be clear, you play this first-person adventure as a human–a master assassin, at that. Read the rest of this entry »

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I Have Been | 26.Sept.12

I have been… an awful parent to this web site. samred.com tends to be the place where I dump ideas on a rare occasion, so not only is it barren, it’s also sub-par. I like my games writing to make sense to outsiders, but the posts directly below this one don’t make for a good starting point. If you’re new to what I do, or haven’t caught up on my writing in a while, enjoy this games-writing primer.

A review of Microsoft’s first stabs at “interactive TV,” Kinect Sesame Street TV and Kinect Nat Geo TV (via The Daily).

A musing on the “are games art?” question (via The Atlantic).

Seattle gets a bad rap in a video game (via Unwinnable).

An interview with Anamanaguchi, a band that uses a Nintendo Entertainment System as its lead singer (via The Daily).

A review of Portal 2 that focuses on its sense of humor (via The Atlantic).

I explored the early days of Kinect hacking by interviewing hobbyists and Microsoft (via The Daily).

A review of a Tetris video game formatted much like a Tetris grid itself: 22 lines, 10 words per line (via Kill Screen).

The story of Nintendo’s weird robot add-on for the old Nintendo Entertainment System (via The Escapist).

A slapdash history lesson about soccer video games to celebrate Seattle’s first MLS team (via The Stranger).

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The Layaway Xbox, or how the Microsoft Store will ruin the 360’s final year

My former Daily colleague Chris Plante picked up an interesting Xbox scoop today, one that is less about video games and more about commerce. According to The Verge, Microsoft will begin selling a subsidized Xbox 360 console next week: $99 for the console and a Kinect sensor, along with a monthly $15 fee. That’s a meaty $200 up-front savings for the Kinect-ready Xbox 360.

The deal hearkens back to the days when Best Buy and other big box retailers pushed computers out the door at rock-bottom prices, then tacked on an ISP subscription to recoup. But then, the term “hearkens back” says a lot about how well that business model worked out; retailers have scrapped that pricing model, because customers got wise to early-termination headaches and an ultimately higher cost. (If cellular providers weren’t colluding about two-year contracts in the States, perhaps that too would crumble, but alas.) Read the rest of this entry »

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I Have Been | 29.Feb.12

I have been playing with… the PlayStation Vita. Before reading my hardware impressions, feel free to hit up my launch reviews at The Daily. Links: one, two, three.

While reviewing the Vita’s huge slew of launch games, I lugged the portable system wherever I went. Not gonna lie–I love bragging about new toys, and boy, did I. But critics have ignored and overlooked a key fact since its launch last week: a lot of people don’t really give a shit.

Once, on a bus, a fellow did a double-take and sat next to me to ogle as I played and touched. Once, at a bar, a bartender recognized it on sight. But I took careful notice of everybody else’s faces as I pulled the Vita out of my bag for reveals, and nine out of ten dentists looked indifferent. Read the rest of this entry »

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I Have Been | 29.Jan.12

I have been… mulling a column concept that revolves around video games and other pop culture junk for some time. Here goes.

I have been thinking about… video game clones.
This week, I took on the Zynga/Nimblebit story for The Daily, focusing on a different angle than most outlets: the Canadian App Store. (Read my story here). A few more clone-related things came up in the past few days: Read the rest of this entry »

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