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Fill.

 

 

Standing in the parking lot at night.

I look up at the sign.

I can’t remember when.

I am a child.

We are between my parents’ separations.

A pleasant evening and I am happy.

I smell the warmth of the asphalt. We walk to the front entrance.

We are going to eat pie. I look at the sign again.

I smile at its brightness.

We step inside. The lounge is full.

It smells like smoke and baked carpet.

I hear the piano music. I run towards it.

I watch the piano play itself.

I try to read its scroll.

The piano is in a frenzy: Pedals and keys pumping like thighs and pistons.

Like an oil derrick throbbing alone in the hills.

I imagine the ghost at the machine.

A hollowness swallows my stomach. I step back.

It feels almost alive. It seems confident.

I imagine the thing filled with bones and gears.

I imagine little fingers wrenching the keys from the inside.

I love this piano.

I am horrified by it.

Our name is called. I run back.

We are escorted to our table.

My father orders a pot pie. My brother orders one also.

He doesn’t know what it is.

Our food comes. My brother hates it.

He thought it would be sweet.

We finish. We sit around awhile.

We get up.

I walk to the piano again. I watch it again.

I place a finger on a key and wait.

It collapses. I jump back.

My father takes my hand.

We walk out.

The door closes.

The piano dies.

The wind picks up.

We walk to the car in silence.

I think about the pot pie.

I think about the piano.

Why would someone make a pie that isn’t sweet?

Why would someone want a piano to play itself?

I stare out the window on the ride home.

I watch the street lights flare by.

Full and confused.

On a road outside LA.

I fall asleep.

 

Rest.

 

A lot of games passed by me.

I was blind to them.

The PlayStation pulled me back in.

My mother gave away our NES and SNES to a poor Palestinian family.

It was Need for Speed III and Final Fantasy VII that reframed my past.

It was where games were then that set me off to reexamine where they came from.

In high school I dove into emulation. I sought out what was necessary.

A friend mentions Ogre Battle.

I download it.

I am frustrated.

Expecting a battle system of total player control, I couldn’t understand the value of the game.

I couldn’t choose my character.

I couldn’t micromanage my army.

Watching my soldiers lose without my direct involvement was awful.

Strategic target prioritization was all I was allowed.

I couldn’t accept it.

I wanted what FFVII promised: Strategic action.

Complete control.

In 2006, my interest in games collapsed again.

I had a laptop, a PlayStation 2, a PSP.

I was caught up with games and I was bored.

Final Fantasy XII released.

I was uninterested. I ignored it.

I visit a friend’s house.

He loves it. He hates FFVII and VIII.

I ask him why he likes XII so much:

“Because it feels like real fantasy, not that weird science/technology stuff in those other games. . .Also, I maxed out my characters in a couple nights. . .”

“What? How?”

“The Gambit System. . .I set macros in the game and rubber-band the analog stick. The party runs around and fights and heals itself and I don’t really have to do anything.”

“What’s the point of that? Is it fun for you?”

“Better than me wasting my game time grinding. . .”

I am stunned.

I am flooded with implication:

The first time I think about a game playing itself.

The first time I see the emptiness behind the systems.

The first time I understand games as inconvenience.

 

Drip.

 

Xenoblade Chronicles asked a lot of me.

Christmas 2012 I bought myself a WiiU.

It was the first Nintendo home console I’d owned since the SNES.

The Wii’s library was stagnant.

Again, I sought out the necessary:

Xenoblade. The Last Story. Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom. Sin & Punishment.

Xenoblade Chronicles is difficult to digest.

The characters skim across the world.

No weight. No friction. No density.

The weapons are half-inflated balloons.

The battle system is auto-attacks and positioning.

It’s watching what your party is doing while controlling one character.

Xenoblade is the evolution of Ogre Battle translated for the MMO generation.

It is uncomfortable.

It’s a game in which the player is marginal.

It’s a game of strategic depth and tactical hollowness.

A beautiful game with no body.

A cavernous game with no bones.

It is the modern predecessor to the ‘game-that-plays-itself.’

Mountain. Dreeps. Neko Atsume.

Mountain: The player watches a procedurally-generated mountain form and float in space.

The player only controls the camera as text from the mountain types itself across the screen.

Dreeps: The player sets an alarm which determines when an android wakes to go on an adventure.

It gains experience and defeats bosses on its own.

Neko Atsume: The player sets out toys and food for cats. The player takes pictures of the cats.

The player cannot interact with the cats directly.

They are all mobile games.

They are all about convenience and voyeurism.

About watching and filling empty time with something a little less empty.

The convenience and horror of FFXII’s Gambit as a design philosophy.

As a genre.

The self-playing game is a multi-level perversion.

Fetishization. Voyeurism. Bondage. Power. Dissociation.

Cold and sexual:

A dying fish glistening in the sunlight.

Intriguing and quiet.

Reflective and Sorrowful.

The self-playing game rests in the chasm between my finger and the piano key.

It is the glass between ourselves and our spaces.

It is falling asleep in the ruins of a feeling.

It is endlessly witnessing the confusion of a rotting memory pushing itself into every experience a person has ever loved.

A hole inside a hole.

A new dawn.

A broken sky.

A sea of cameras.

A fury of nostalgia.

 

A graveyard of pixels.

 

 

 

 

sa

 

 

Grate.

 

 

There are moments I stop playing video games.

I can recall each moment because they are all defined by an exploration of something new.

Lost somewhere in the fog of high school, I walked away from games for the second time.

It was never clear what triggered this.

Freshman year I was playing Grand Theft Auto on the Game boy Color.

Sophomore year my brother and I pooled our money together for a Playstation 2.

Junior year and something shifted.

I turned to music.

I explored vinyl records.

I pulled my parents’ old Sanyo floor speakers from the basement.

I bought my first pair of Sony Stereophones.

Sound became important.

The first car I owned was a 1986 Saab 9000 Turbo.

Its stock stereo system had a visual equalizer.

I spent hours tweaking frequencies and audio presets.

When I came back to games I had developed an aural palate.

I knew what I wanted to hear.

I picked up my Game Boy Color and played Dragon Warrior for the first time since its NES release.

Its music stuck with me long after I had forgotten about it.

I asked a friend if he could copy specific songs off the Final Fantasy VII soundtrack.

I listened to it everyday driving home from school.

I began to pay attention to what I once considered passive elements.

Soundscape. Music. Sound Design. Lighting. Art.

My only focus had been on plot and mechanics.

I revisited games from my past.

Lion King. Aladdin. Super Mario 2. Guerrilla War. Super Street Fighter II Turbo. Contra. Jackal.

I experimented through them all.

I played with the fluid sprites of Aladdin.

I realized how deep Jackal’s music had dug into my past.

 

Coil.

 

When the original Playstation hit, it occupied a strange place in sound.

The PS1 rendered an insinuation of orchestra.

Everything from Final Fantasy VII to Metal Gear Solid to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night had soundtracks that landed between what was and what was to come.

With better hardware, it was a matter of time before game music became orchestral and real.

I wasn’t looking forward to that.

Most film soundtracks use orchestral variation and most film soundtracks are forgettable.

With each consecutive hardware generation, games became less immune to being forgotten.

Designers dropped simple, tight, engaging melodies for large, sweeping waves of sound.

Final Fantasy X was my first exposure to this.

I cannot recall a single FFX theme.

When everything is drowned in realized, emotional music, it has no impact.

It has no force.

The most recognizable themes in games today are those that understand how to use boundary and limitation.

Halo and its haunting, simple, choral opening.

Crysis 2 and Hans Zimmer’s dissonant, driven theme.

Armored Core V and its awkward, shifting, stuttering soundscape.

Transistor and its somber, tense, contemplative anthem.

Game music succeeds when it does new things with mathematical elegance.

As games shift further away from their origins, as they become more complex, more rooted in an approximation of reality, they can only strengthen their identities by reexamining the technical boundaries of their past.

By trying to forge identity through deliberate misremembrance.

 

Sea.

 

Until 2011, the last piece of Nintendo hardware I owned was a first-generation Game Boy Advance.

I skipped the N64, GameCube, Wii, and DS.

The 3DS was the first Nintendo console I bought in ten years.

I was annoyed at myself for ignoring the DS in favor of the PSP.

I was interested in experimenting with the parallax display.

It took time to get reacquainted with Nintendo.

I disliked what they did with the Wii and the 3DS was their initial attempt to rediscover the ‘core’ gaming audience.

Super Mario 3D Land shocked me. Its music was simple and memorable.

It was the perfect evolution of sound.

The music was experienced and enhanced the game’s bright art.

Nearly every first-party game on the 3DS had a thorough, crafted approach to sound.

The 3DS was the first handheld console where I couldn’t just mute the games.

I needed to hear what was going on.

In 2013, I bought Animal Crossing: New Leaf to cope with my wife leaving for a month.

It was the first Animal Crossing game I played.

The wholeness of its soundscape was captivating.

The music was light, crisp, and warm.

The sound of the rain, the waterfalls, the shore was thick and meditative.

The sound of footsteps on sand, grass, cobblestone, wood was mesmerizing.

More than any other element, the sound design stuck.

Listening to New Leaf was just as much a pleasure as playing it.

I bought a Wii U not long after launch.

I waited for the first-party games. I waited for the extension of the 3DS’ promise.

Super Mario 3D World was just as beautiful and whole as 3D Land.

Mario Kart 8 infused pop and joy into nearly every track’s theme.

The thoroughness of Sonic’s sound design in Super Smash Bros. Wii U is nothing short of a loving tribute to a dying friend.

Nintendo is often attacked for being slow to adapt, to change.

Nintendo is often accused of thriving in their own bubble and calling it success.

While these criticisms are fair, it is important to examine what it is they get right.

They understand how to build games.

They understand that sound and music aren’t just aural skyboxes encompassing their worlds.

They consider and entwine sound into every step, every inch.

Nintendo’s approach to sound is simple and profound.

Soulful and considered.

 

Grinning and whispered.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On The Evolution And Development Of Mech Games.

 

 

RPS.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lattice.

 

 

I never played the original Killzone.

When it released on the PS2 in 2004, its reception was lukewarm.

The first Killzone was highly regarded for its aesthetics, but was derided for a lack of stability (framerate issues, general bugs, broken AI).

I didn’t purchase Killzone 1 because it was a console shooter in the PS2 era, I was unconvinced that this was viable and Killzone’s problems proved it.

Even if Bungie had shown it was possible to create a thriving console FPS on the Xbox with Halo:CE in 2001, Guerilla hadn’t been doing what Bungie had been honing since 1991.

The only console FPS I played in that generation was the last FPS released on PS2 in 2006: Black.

While Black still felt lacking, it worked a lot better than expected.

It had a strong identity, crafted through sound.

Black won ‘Best Art & Sound’ at the Develop Industry Excellence Awards and was nominated for ‘Best Audio’ at the 2006 BAFTA Video Games Awards.

Black didn’t receive much attention in the larger gaming community.

It was the end of both the PS2 and the Xbox. Everyone was waiting for the new console generation to drop.

In the time between Guerilla’s creation in 2000 and Black’s release, Bungie had released two Halo games and Halo 2 both broadened and focused Halo:CE’s premise.

Halo 2 was not only a more fluid experience, but it set the standard for matchmaking on consoles in 2004, two years before Black’s release.

Halo 2 defined the future of console FPSes by proving that online multiplayer can be important to consoles provided the experience is streamlined.

It was also a faster, tighter game than its predecessor.

The lore had taken root and the game’s boundaries were significantly expanded, but it moved the player through varied environments and set-pieces at a quick pace.

When the PS3 released in 2006, the Halo series had cemented itself as the pre-eminent console FPS (exclusive to Xbox).

Nobody discussed Killzone or Black the way they did Halo.

Halo’s tech-spirituality transcended the game.

It was revered.

It wasn’t until Killzone 2 released in 2009, that Sony and Guerrilla found an alternative and an answer.

 

Neck.

 

In the age of searching for ‘The Next Halo’, Killzone 2 was pegged by many to be a ‘Halo Killer’.

It wasn’t.

KZ2 wasn’t a failure by any means, but it wasn’t seen as the instant legend Halo:CE or Halo 2 were.

But Killzone 2 did something that neither Halo nor Call of Duty did: Verticality.

Ever since the creation of the modern first-person shooter with Wolfenstein 3D, the genre has been obsessive about exploring horizontal space.

There are always small deviations in verticality, but the focus is generally about moving across a world, not through it.

Games that decided to explore vertical space more prior to KZ2 are today considered modern classics: Half-Life 2. Crysis. Counter-Strike.

But these were PC shooters and PC games were always conceptually ahead.

Both Halo and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare tried to integrate a passing glance at vertical space.

The beauty of Halo’s ringworld is that the player can see it looping over them into the horizon.

A simulation of climbing, when the player was doing nothing but moving forward.

CoD4 tackled verticality by emphasizing aerial and long-distance threats like helicopters, gunships, and snipers.

KZ2 though was built around vertical space.

The game never gave the sense that the player was moving across a world.

The environments were dark and closed.

Either the player was moving up, down, or penned in by looming structures tearing at the sky.

Killzone 2 seemed to absorb some of the lessons of PC shooters. It was a grand hybrid of both worlds.

The multiplayer was quick and deep, implementing a leveling system similar to what CoD4 presented, the levels were innovative and interesting, it had a unique visual style to rival Halo’s.

With each successive iteration of the Killzone franchise, Guerrilla focused the series’ obsession with vertical space.

Killzone: Shadow Fall has massive cities that both drill down and bloom up and moving through them is fulfilling in ways other shooters aren’t, not even the Halo series.

 

Satellite.

 

After ending their console exclusivity with Microsoft, Bungie was set free.

The Halo franchise was passed on to 343 Industries while Bungie worked on their ambitious, multi-platform project: Destiny.

No one knew quite what to expect from this game considering the amount of hype it had generated.

We are still in the beginning of a new console generation and the marketing of games has been loud and heavy.

Watch Dogs is the worst example of this: A mediocre GTA-like with little innovation and an enormous marketing budget.

The gaming community wanted Watch Dogs to be better than it was because it was a new-gen game.

At first, Destiny felt like more of the same: Heavy marketing and another future-FPS from the development house that brought us Halo.

But in the beta, it became evident there was more going on.

When it released a month later, the game reaffirmed what the beta had suggested:

Destiny is a study of the history of the FPS genre as a whole.

It is reminiscent of both Doom and Wolfenstein 3D by having the player move across both vast, open spaces and tight corridors.

Its shooting has the crispness of Rage.

The story of the game is woven into the environments the player frequents, expressing a narrative and aesthetic style similar to Half-Life 2 and Halo.

Destiny’s level progression would not exist if not for CoD4’s pioneering multiplayer leveling system.

Its persistent online world and seemless matchmaking on console is owed to the ground Bungie broke with Halo 2.

The clear, aural identity of the weapons reminded me of the amazing things Black had done with sound.

But what stunned me the most is Destiny’s suggestion and seamless incorporation of vertical space.

Many of Destiny’s missions has the player either tunneling down into some alien dungeon or battling upwards towards the sky.

Bungie’s use of vertical space isn’t as ‘full’ as Guerrilla’s in Killzone, but it is different enough that it doesn’t matter.

What Killzone often presents is a stark contrast between tight, claustrophobic environments and wide-open vertical horizons.

Destiny doesn’t really explore that duality.

Even the alien tunnels the player moves through have a stunning amount of vertical space: large structures, high ceilings, etc.

In these locations, Destiny’s use of vertical space is similar to arena shooters like Quake and Unreal Tournament.

However, when the player is out in open terrain, Destiny is often suggestive of Half-Life 2’s City 17 and its relationship to the Combine Citadel.

City 17 is a major hub/transition area and the Citadel can be seen from nearly anywhere in the city, always looming over the player.

In Destiny, Bungie break up the visual monotony of the horizontal by incorporating large, looming structures on all the planets.

On Earth, it’s the Traveler and the enormous, dead spaceships.

On the Moon, it’s giant cliffs and peaks collapsing into huge chasms.

On Venus, it’s the Vex superstructure hovering in the sky.

Part of the reason open-world shooters like Fallout 3 grow stale is because there is little to break-up the visual monotony of the horizon.

There is nothing aspirational.

Many complain that Destiny seems like a very small game, but the lens with which they view the game is inaccurate.

One of the bigger problems of modern games is they never take the time to allow the player to occupy a space.

Either through a rushed narrative or weak action, the game is pushing the player forward without any real presence.

Destiny forces you to explore and re-explore a place over and over again. It asks the player to pay attention to the world.

It’s asking the player to just relax and be in it.

Destiny has dedicated buttons for sitting and dancing.

It never feels rushed.

Like Dark Souls, it has a dignified quiet.

A lot of the talk around Destiny compares it to Borderlands, but that is a disservice to the game.

Borderlands is a simple, boring shooter that uses a loot system and an over-saturated visual style as its hook.

Destiny is contemplative, even more so than Halo.

It is empty and tall. Wide and fragile.

It is a koan wrapped in an epic.

Destiny isn’t really like any other shooter, but it is the entire history of the genre.

Thorough and thoughtful, Destiny is an honest experience, an elegant one.

An experience that, with the right kind of eyes, nearly anyone can rejoice in and grow from.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Orpheus.

 

 

1) Nintendo Wii U Gamepad

 

The gamepad is bloated plastic.

It is expansive.

Even with all its technology (touchscreen, console streaming) it feels empty. It feels like a pastry puff.

The face buttons have a deep, low click when pressed and a higher-pitched, muted release.

There is stiffness to them that both speaks to the solid build of the device and of over-engineering.

Everything on the device presses like a face button except the analog sticks.

The D-pad is enormous, making it difficult to use, and clicks hard on presses, tiring the thumb.

It is nice to have triggers that snap rather than melt against your finger, but the ability to gauge force is gone.

The gamepad is not a subtle device.

It is gaudy, heavy, and tight.

It is empty, but with the right amount of friction.

A friction born from Nintendo’s first-party games.

It lacks subtlety, it lacks the hidden finesse Nintendo games demand from the players.

It’s almost as if the gamepad is a reaction to the Wii controller’s light weight.

But there wasn’t any subtlety there either since the Wii depended on inaccurate motion-control.

Nintendo gave up the sword to build the tank.

 

2) SNK Neo-Geo X

 

The Neo-Geo X is a gorgeous machine to look at.

It is a contender for the most beautiful handheld ever made.

Everything about it is understated: A black and gold color scheme and a layering of texture.

The face buttons are tighter than the Wii U gamepad, but not as audible. The buttons make the same noise being pressed as they do being released.

This lack of noise from the face buttons is offset by one of the few innovations the Neo-Geo X possesses: The joystick.

Catering to arcade/action games, Tommo built the Neo-Geo X with a microswitch joystick.

Any tap in any direction creates a loud, audible click.

The NGX has great density, but lacks the puffiness of the Wii U gamepad.

It doesn’t sit comfortably in hand.

One of the best features of the system is the split shoulder buttons.

Rather than have two long shoulder buttons at the top of the console, Tommo cut each shoulder button into two, making the NGX the only portable console with four shoulder buttons.

The PS Vita could have benefited from this feature with PS4 remote play.

The downside to Tommo/SNK’s approach to the shoulders is the difficulty in curling fingers to tap L1/R1 since they are stunted to make room for L2/R2.

The NGX has a soft rubber back that feels sticky and decadent.

This is a texture more hardware manufacturers ought to use.

In spite of its problems, this is one of the best handheld gaming devices ever made.

Even better than the Neo-Geo Pocket Color.

 

3) Xbox 360 Controller

 

The Xbox 360 controller is pretty. Its lines are both direct and subtle.

It has a better silhouette than the Sixaxis.

Between the travesty of the original Xbox controller and the success of the 360, Microsoft learned quick.

Borrowing design elements from the Sega Dreamcast, the 360 controller has one of the most unique faces of any modern console.

One analog stick positioned high on the left, bottom left sits a rolling D-pad, and further to the right the second analog stick.

The setup does seem obtuse at first, but the obviousness of its design begins to show when moving around three-dimensional spaces.

The controller itself has a nice heft and sticks in the hands.

By far the 360 controller is the most stable to hold.

It just fits.

Though the buttons are not exceptional.

Even the NGX has better face and shoulder buttons than the 360.

Its face buttons require quite a bit more force than the PS3 or the Wii U and stick out much higher than they need to.

The face buttons are too stiff.

This is strange to me when combined with the presence of a well-made rolling D-pad.

The rolling D-pad is part of what made the Sega Genesis controllers so wonderful, perfect for fast-paced action games.

Why combine a tool used for quick, fluid movement with slow, stiff buttons designed for something like inventory management?

The shoulder buttons are also difficult to press.

They are both small and require exceptional force at strange angles.

They feel almost as stunted and difficult as the NGX, but where SNK/Tommo made their decision based on space conservation and utility, Microsoft has no excuse.

The trigger buttons are actual triggers and have a strange arc to them that doesn’t work on a controller.

They are uncomfortable.

The 360 controller is an elegant, confused piece of hardware that is trying too hard to be too many things.

 

4) Sony PlayStation Vita

 

While the NGX is a product of subtle, layered design, the Vita is a powerhouse of interaction.

It has an enticing weight.

It is a very dense machine and that density is justified by the overwhelming amount of technology within.

An OLED touchscreen on the front, a touchpad on the back, two analog sticks, and front/rear cameras.

The D-pad is near perfect. It feels like a flat, rolling D-pad. Each directional press has a very subdued click that is felt more than heard.

The analog sticks are short, but responsive. They have a balanced tension that sits somewhere between the 360’s tightness and the Sixaxis’ give.

I enjoy the NGX because of its combination of textures.

Its joystick is a matte, rough plastic. Its face buttons are a clear, smooth plastic. Its case is all gloss on the front. Its back is a sticky-smooth rubber.

The Vita would have benefited from more experimentation with texture.

It would have been better without any of the gloss, like the 3DS XL.

Sony already used matte plastic around the D-pad and beneath the face buttons, they should have extended it to the whole system.

It is slippery.

It is too thin to hold comfortably and manipulate all input options.

It puts enormous strain on the wrists and hands.

While making the system larger would have been questionable, it would work better with some grips built into the back of the system rather than the two large dimples it does have.

The Vita’s highlight is its face buttons.

They are tight and responsive. They don’t feel cheap.

They have two clicks each when pressed and released, felt deep in the bones.

Pressing buttons on the Vita is a joy.

The face buttons alone are enough to make someone find reasons to play with it.

It draws you in with its innate experience.

 

5) Nintendo Game Boy Advance SP

 

The Game Boy Advance SP is one of my favorite handheld consoles of all time.

A console that drips with intimacy.

When closed, the SP is appealing and understated.

It feels good to hold and to look at: A slight rectangle with rounded corners.

It has an appealing thickness as well. It doesn’t suffer from the hyper-driven thinness of most handhelds today.

On opening the console, the proportions are less appealing.

When open, the SP looks worse than the Game Boy Pocket.

It does maintain the intimacy: The screen is small and bright and the controls are simple and obvious.

On its face the SP has only two buttons, D-pad, backlight adjustment, and Start/Select.

The whole console is matte plastic, which gives it the right amount of friction.

Nintendo positioned the Start/Select buttons near the bottom, making pausing awkward.

The SP D-pad feels similar to the Vita D-pad.

There is more space between the directions on the SP, but it has a great rolling effect. Otherwise, the SP D-pad has the same tight click as the Vita’s, without feeling difficult like the Wii U gamepad.

What’s amazing about this is that the SP predates the Vita by almost a decade.

Not only is the D-pad ascendant, but the A/B face buttons are also as good as the Vita: Dense, heavy clicks that reverberate in the thumb.

The GBA SP does have two shoulder buttons as well and while they are tight and loud, they are just as awkward to press as the NGX and the 360.

This doesn’t affect the SP as much as the other two since the shoulder buttons are not utilized in critical situations.

It’s inspiring to see what Nintendo is capable of when they get things right.

The SP came out on the back of one of the worst-designed handheld systems in history: The Game Boy Advance.

Much like with the PSV, the SP is so satisfying to interact with, it makes you find reasons to play it.

In 2014 it still doesn’t feel dated.

This is a portable device that continues to hold its own, almost 10 years later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flower.

 

 

In 2007, I came back to video games.

It has always been a dynamic relationship.

After the release of the SNES in 1991, I stopped following or caring about games until a friend of mine showed me the PlayStation in 1996.

My brother convinced my parents to get us a PS1 for his birthday. We stuck with Sony consoles through the PlayStation 2.

My interest in games waned again just before the generational switch (PS2 – PS3).

Having witnessed the July War in 2006, I was full of anger, resentment, rage.

I wrote a lot in that period. I read a lot. I listened to music and drove around the Midwestern back country alone.

I had no place for games then.

But I got tired. I burnt myself out.

I collapsed in and found nothing.

A friend of mine had managed to purchase a PlayStation 3 near launch in fall 2006.

I would go over to his place some nights and we would play Call of Duty 4 together.

It was strange to me even then that I could find some comfort in playing a war game considering I had just lived it.

But I was tired and it was fun.

I bought a PlayStation 3 in 2007.

The PS3 was more than just a console to me, it was a companion.

A friend to pull me back into myself.

I still had my PS2 and used it to play fighting games and old JRPGs, but the PS3 was about potential, it was about looking forward.

I chose PlayStation over Xbox because Microsoft was taking themselves too seriously at that time. It felt as though MS was trying to turn the 360 into a war simulator (Gears of War, Halo 3) and I couldn’t deal with it.

Assassin’s Creed was the first game I bought.

I bought it because it looked like Thief.

I bought it because the hero was an Arab. I needed that. I needed to see that.

After I completed AC, I bought CoD4. I loved the crispness of its action and the quick pacing.

It was a grand piano of a game.

I was back into games now. I was having a great time.

And in Christmas 2008 I discovered something I thought had died in the medium:

Joy.

 

River.

 

I still don’t understand what compelled me to consider buying Prince of Persia.

It was getting a lot of attention. The sentiments were mixed.

I had tried to enjoy the franchise before, somewhere in the Sands of Time trilogy on PS2.

I didn’t like it.

Coming off of God of War, PoP lacked the visceral, flashy combat I had become used to.

Prince of Persia was all about the fluidity of motion and in the mid-2000s, that wasn’t something I was looking for.

When the new PoP released in December of 2008, I had already begun to think about games differently.

I had begun to see them less as virtual gauntlets and more as products of interlocking systems. I made the switch from playing games to analyzing them.

As I looked through the screenshots of the new Prince of Persia, I fell in with the art.

The colors were vivid, bright. The lines were bold. It reminded me of Okami, but more fluid.

I bought the game based on art alone.

I went home for Christmas.

Sitting in my old bedroom in the middle of a heavy winter: I spent a lot of time in Prince of Persia’s world.

The movement was bubbly, the levels had charisma. It was a beautiful game.

Much of the talk around this new interpretation of the PoP series involved not being able to die.

Many in the gaming community felt that not being punished for failing a jump made the game too easy, too simplistic, and less rewarding.

They got this one wrong though.

The punishment in Prince of Persia is that you lose the fluidity of movement.

You lose the ability of fluid expression, of pure motion.

This subtlety was lost on many.

The amount of negative feedback has stalled the series.

 

Soil.

 

Prior to the 3DS, the last Nintendo console I owned was the Game Boy Advance SP.

I never bought a DS.

When Nintendo announced the DS, they said it wasn’t meant to replace the Game Boy.

I held onto my SP waiting for a new Game Boy announcement. I loved and still love everything about the SP.

But that announcement never came.

I bought the 3DS out of frustration, out of having been tricked by Nintendo into waiting, into missing an entire portable generation of content.

I bought the 3DS when the media and the community at large was saying it was going to fail.

I always have a tendency to get involved at the ends of things and I believed them.

At one point, I hadn’t touched my 3DS for months. I thought it really was over.

Then I read Tim Rogers’ review about Super Mario 3D Land.

I bought the game immediately.

I loved it.

SM3DL was the first Mario Game I played since Super Mario World.

It had the same core, emotive design as PoP in 2008: A platforming game designed around joy, around really inhabiting and exploring a world of bright colors, excellent movement, and charismatic levels.

Super Mario 3D Land made me smile.

While critically acclaimed, again the game was considered too easy by many.

The point was missed again.

The player can still die in 3D Land. However, death isn’t the punishment for bad play.

The actual punishment is being kicked out of that world for a brief moment.

The punishment is the extraction from a joyous place.

Death is only the conveyor.

 

Rustle.

 

3D Land has stuck with me.

I go back and think about it.

Super Mario 3D World is also a good game, but it has more problems.

3D World lacks some of the joy, the lightness of 3D Land.

It takes itself a little more seriously.

3D World is a little more messy.

This probably has to do with it being a console game and therefore having to be full of content.

It’s no surprise then that the next joyous platformer would appear on the 3DS.

Kirby: Triple Deluxe is the first Kirby game I have played since Kirby’s Dream Land in 1992.

Triple Deluxe is wonderful.

The game is always playing with and manipulating player expectations through clever level design.

It is bursting with joy.

It is the true companion to 3D Land.

The most impressive element in Triple Deluxe is the use of 3D.

Levels are two planes: Front and Rear.

The Front plane is where the player operates most of the time.

The player can still see what’s happening in the Rear.

The player is also transported in and out of the Rear plane throughout the levels.

With the player operating in one plane, while being able to see what’s happening in the other, Kirby: Triple Deluxe wastes nothing.

It is a tight game driven by Chekhov’s Gun and joy.

Triple Deluxe is stunningly beautiful.

Bright, thick, and layered: Triple Deluxe is a rainbow ice cream cake of art.

Dying in K:TD is difficult.

It sits somewhere between PoP and 3D Land, between not dying and dying as a conveyance.

This again has led many to suggest it is too simple.

And again, the subtlety is lost.

Kirby: Triple Deluxe doesn’t really want to punish the player. It encourages the player to inhabit the world as much as they want.

Where in PoP the player loses movement and momentum and in Mario the player’s time in the world is dictated, Kirby wants the player to lounge around in its world.

It wants the player to hang out and poke around.

This is very rare for a 2D platformer.

Kirby: Triple Deluxe is a game that should be sipped at, like Dark Souls.

The gaming media and community need to stop judging games simply by the merits of their difficulty.

Not every game is designed within the spectrum of ‘simple-difficult’.

The metrics of analysis must be greatly expanded.

The medium needs more games designed around joy, designed around the idea of wanting to inhabit a place.

Since 2008, I’ve played a lot of games and the only ones that have managed to stick with me are the ones that make me feel welcome:

 

The games with warmth in their bones.