"Don't be a dick." That simple notion is the first of Victor Lucas' 3D rules. The others? Don't dick around and don't hang out with dicks. Some would lead you to believe the games press is filled with dicks. It's not. With this in mind, I seek out the best games writing - from news to interviews to reviews and beyond - and highlight it here.
We’re kicking off our awards with a bang — that is, one of our biggest awards, Best Criticism is launching this shin dig. Adding to the awesome are our awards for Best Soundtrack, Best List Article, Best Series, our first Rising Star award, and the 8CN.tv Best Adaptation Into A Videogame. Here. We. Go.
Best Soundtrack: Kentucky Route Zero
Runner-up: The Last of Us
Gustavo Santaolalla’s unconventional composition and sparse sensibilities built a somber and unique score for Naughty Dog’s opus that was instantly identifiable to anyone who played it.
Honorable Mention: BioShock Infinite
Best List Article: “Get This Man Up To Speed,” Jim Rossignol
Whereas last year’s batch of judges opted for “Best List” to be a fun experience — tasting Pokemon won out in a monumental way for those wanting to try eating a Charizard — this year’s judges opted for more serious takes on the list article, in the vein of Tom Bissell’s awesome “13 ways of looking at a shooter”, or, indeed, Rossignol’s examination of the last fifteen years of PC gaming. Rossignol blends the seriousness of a piece like Bissell’s and the lightheartedness generally associated with lists — complete with tongue-in-cheek jabs at Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, the out-of-nowhere success of League of Legends, and sports games still iterating like nobody’s business. It’s a very Rock, Paper, Shotgun take on the last fifteen years…and that’s exactly what we wanted.
Runner-up: “Twenty Developers You Don’t Know But Should,” Joystiq Staff.
The Joystiq staff came together to provide a meaningful overview of developers you might not be following but should be, featuring the folks that make games like Wizorb, Year Walk, Papo and Yo, and other darlings. Sure, they’re probably not creating the next juggernaut franchise — but who’s to say that they aren’t?
8CN Best Adaptation Into A Videogame: Lego Marvel Super Heroes
We turned the floor over to our friends at 8CN.tv — a great place for all things geek — to chat about the best bit of geekdom turned videogame geekdom. This is what they came up with.
Lego has a long history of fantastic licensed games (everything from Star Wars to Batman to Harry Potter and beyond), but their 2013 installment really raised the bar on video game adaptations.
Lego Marvel Super Heroes managed to take Marvel’s rich, 75 year history and distill it into an experience that was both accessible and endearing to fans and non-fans alike.
The game featured nearly 150 characters ranging from the Avengers to the X-Men, and even the Guardians of the Galaxy; bringing them together for an adventure that’s full of both fan-service (Clark Gregg voices Agent Coulson! Lego Asgard! Stan Lee cameo!) and surprises alike.
More important than the volume of content though was the attention to detail. Despite the blocky Lego visuals, Marvel Super Heroes still felt true to its source material. The characters felt polished and accurate, the gameplay was light and fun, and the entire experience radiated the wit and excitement that has grabbed readers for generations.
Marvel Super Heroes is likely Lego’s best yet, and undoubtedly one of the finest comic book-inspired games of all time. Plus, it has Troy Baker shouting, “I am Groot!” You’re not going to find that anywhere else.
Best Series: “Tropes vs. Women,” Anita Sarkeesian
Though Good Games Writing’s primary focus is on the written word, both our judges and our staff decided that video ruled the roost in the Best Series category this year, and we agreed that no video series was more important and more influential than “Tropes vs. Women.” Beginning with the firm acknowledgment that games are something we can all enjoy as well as criticize, “Tropes vs. Women” proceeded to dissect gaming traditions and compel its audience to examine the different ways games depict women.
Runner-up: “Extra Credits,” James Portnow, Daniel Floyd, Allison Theus, Elisa Scaldafferi, Scoot DeWitt
Beloved by GGW’s readers and judges alike, Extra Credits continues to be one of the best educational series about game development and gaming traditions available to us.
Honorable Mention: “The Jimquisition,” Jim Sterling
One of our 2012 nominees for writer of the year marched through 2013 with his typically unflappable swagger, gaining armies of new followers along the way, and expertly transitioning from Destructoid to The Escapist without his flagship video column missing a beat.
Rising Star: Laura Dale
Laura Dale is on a mission to highlight quality indie games…and make them. While her venture into game development is certainly one worth watching, it was her decision to found Indie Haven and ability to anchor the publication that has gained our attention. With a regular column highlighting indies, a series of short, thoughtful reviews, and running the always fascinating developer roundtables, we regularly drop by Indie Haven for our indie fix. However, Laura’s most important article, as we see it, didn’t appear on Indie Haven, nor did it talk indie games at all; instead, Laura proposed we talk about Birdo and the implications the character has for transgender people in the gaming space.
Laura is the first of our three Rising Star recipients.
Best Criticism: “True-ish Grit,” Tom Bissell
It’s a testament to Tom Bissell’s contributions to games writing that a search for his recent declaration that he won’t be writing about games anymore yields nothing but links to some of his best writing about games. “True-ish Grit” is Bissell’s take on The Last of Us, an effacing contrast between the current hang-ups of AAA games and their latent literary and cultural power. Nothing else came close in this category.
The announcement of the PS4 was cause for celebration for many people, but Teti was there to eloquently keep opinions in orbit, and enumerate the shortcomings of Sony’s next-gen philosophy.
Honorable Mention: “Football: The Kotaku Review,” Tim Rogers
This is our own Adam Condra’s single-favorite piece of games writing from 2013. No, he’s not upset that it didn’t go higher amongst our judges, he’s just happy that it was nominated.
Adam and I had the unenviable task of coming up with a shortlist of the games writers we wanted to recognize as the best of the best from the past year. We thought it would be an easy task, but some thousand odd articles later and several conversations with editors, writers, community members, and so on, we realized just how hard it would be to come up with a shortlist.
Our Top 7 (this could be a GamesRadar feature — Mr Cooper, phone us!) is a list that is far from comprehensive. In striking a balance between those that report, those that critique, and those that fall somewhere in between, we had to lose something. There are many great voices in our industry, and we encourage you to seek them out. Whether it’s Mattie Brice creating poignant, pointed criticism, or past winner Colin Campbell still standing as one of the best reporters around, there’s no shortage of potential snubs on this list.
Our list was compiled to represent what we view as a very strong year in games writing; it is a list that recognizes not just writing ability but a certain spirit of games writing. There were no easy decisions to be made, and the job of the judges is certainly bound to be no easier. We feel, however, that our list is a good one, and it is presented below:
In Alphabetical Order:
1. Leigh Alexander
There might not be anyone more synonymous with the practice of games writing than Leigh Alexander. One of two returning nominations from last year’s Goodie awards, Leigh never rested her keyboard in 2013, writing news, criticism, opinion pieces, and addressing games from almost every conceivable angle. Her talent for navigating big-picture analysis and cogent personal reflection, sometimes in the same piece, paired with an active interest in every way that games are discussed has made her a preeminent voice in games writing that everyone should follow.
2. Chris Kohler
As Wired’s Game|Life editor, Kohler claimed the region of industry analysis as his personal fiefdom. Few writers were more trusted and more incisive in 2013 on the subject of corporate examination. In particular, Kohler was the voice of reason in a turbulent year for Nintendo, blending sharp criticism with expert knowledge of the company’s historical practices to produce insights into what the Big N’s future will look like.
3. Simon Parkin
Parkin secured a Goodie nomination in the same deft fashion that nominated him last year. As one of the best investigative journalists going, he combines natural prose with unimpeachable research, taking readers deep into the impact that games have on our culture. Though seen at prominent game outlets like Eurogamer and Polygon, Parkin continues to help build the bridge between games writing and mainstream news sources, appearing regularly in The Guardian and The New Yorker, among others.
4. Russ Pitts
Russ Pitts is the Indiana Jones of games writers: a professor and a doer. Under his leadership, the features wing of Polygon was unstoppable in 2013. Between overseeing the regularly excellent output of his fellow Polygon staff, he continued to travel across the map, embedding himself in development studios, profiling the people behind the games we play, and never ceasing his efforts to uncover and share “the human element” in videogames.
5. Robert Rath
Good games writers are often known for their journalistic skills, or their talent for criticism, but few know how to tie those elements together into something just as important: history. Rath does this better than anyone, because his prime instinct is to write about games relative to our history, not just the history of games. His column for The Escapist, “Critical Intel,” gave 2013 a weekly marriage of games criticism and historical analysis that showed readers how to contextualize the games we play in the social, political, and martial legacies that preceded them. He took a novel idea and turned it into vital, appointment-games-reading.
6. Jason Schreier
Schreier has the distinction of being the most nominated person among these candidates. His pieces received more Goodie nominations in more categories than anyone in GGW’s (admittedly brief) history, and with good reason: Schreier is consistently our go-to guy for great longreads. Whether he’s exposing the corporate play-making behind next-gen console launches, or diving into topics that have long been dogging at the minds of gamers, his work has been exemplary of thorough research and great composition.
7. Alan Williamson
Alan Williamson isn’t keen to put himself in the spotlight, but he is keen to shine it on games writing. As editor-in-chief of Five out of Ten magazine, Williamson worked tirelessly to prove that diverse, quality games writing didn’t need to go uncompensated, and didn’t need the capital afforded by big advertisers to flourish. The result is a digital palliative to the idea that games writing is all press-releases and “seven to ten” criticism. We commend Alan for starting a revolution (or rebirth?) of quality paid content.
Congratulations to all our nominees. Winners announced soon, along with the rest of The Goodies winners!
You may have noticed that GGW has been quiet lately…at least on Tumblr. That’s because we’ve been working away on a number of projects. We’ll post details of those here very soon, I assure you.
But first of all, I’d like to announce that Adam Condra is now the curator of Good Games Writing, while I, Kyle, step on up to the broader role of Editorial Director.
What does this mean?
Adam is the boss man on here now…but I still boss him around. For you, this isn’t much of a change, but it does mean more regular content on here (and not just on Twitter), as well as original features on games writing and gaming as a whole. Many more of the posts you see will be in Adam’s voice, though mine will certainly be heard regularly too. Oh, and it won’t just be us…we’re using this platform to give voices to many, many more people than the two of us in the near future.
To accommodate this, sometime later this week we’ll unveil GoodGamesWriting First — a different take on what we’re doing. First will be decidedly not on Tumblr, and will be the home to all your daily content needs. Here on the tumblr, we’ll update twice weekly with the stories from GGW First, so if you subscribe to us or follow you won’t miss out on any content. First is where the content goes, well, first.
Further building on this change is that the obnoxious orange stripes are being toned down a bit. No, we’re not doing away with them completely, but we get that they are nauseating. We’ve listened to your critiques, though, and we’re doing what we can to address that while still staying true to our (very MySpace) sensibilities.
One final note: we’ll be rolling out a separate Twitter account to expedite this process. This twitter will be run by the GGW team and only chat about GGW things. It’ll also obsessively use the #GGW hashtag because the old owners of that hashtag are evil and shameful and we hate them. Yes, hate.
The existing @goodwritingvg account will still be the place to go to actually TALK to us, and will maintain the personality it has possessed these wonderful two years.
Adam (@condrarian) is now a much bigger part of GGW.
GGW First launches later this week. It will be less orange and have a separate twitter.
Kyle McIntosh (@evkmack)
Satire is an escape rope games are all too willing to utilize to get out of tricky situations they themselves have created. And you thought dropping a deus ex machina was a cliche.
David Chandler argues that GTA V is not satire, and hey, while we’re at it, neither is Bayonetta nor Far Cry 3. David, take it away:
GTA V’s gameplay lacks both an ironic punch and a didactic end. As often as the game seems to make judgments about a player’s operating in a morally bankrupt world, the gameplay only reinforces the virtues of morally bankrupt activity. We steal cars and shoot people because that’s what people in San Andreas do. If the game were satire, there would be some type of mechanical, formal acknowledgment that the roles the player perform are repugnant and awful, but there’s no mechanical comeuppance for the sins of the player.
So, what games are satire then? Hotline Miami certainly counts.
Abrasive, pixelated visuals and repetitive music accompany hyperactive violence. Braining an unsuspecting guard with a crowbar or shooting up a room sends red and purple pixels across the floor and walls, but the walk back through the building after everyone has been killed slows the gameplay just long enough for you to take stock in your handiwork.
Chandler hedges his bets, noting that his choice of language—in breaking down “satire” — may be “splitting hairs”. We’re using language, though. The words we use makes a difference. If a developer claims their work is satire, then it needs to be satire. Otherwise, they’re making use of that escape rope.
Chandler, David. “Video games and the struggle with satire” (AWESOMEoutof10: September 30th, 2013) <http://www.awesomeoutof10.com/features/video-games-and-the-struggle-with-satire/>.
Phil Kollar, in his review of Batman: Arkham Origins on Polygon.
A very good review — one of our favourites thus far on the game — that notes the tenuous relationship between the game’s solid core and its changes under a new team.
The Pitch: I will create an event that draws writers from various backgrounds together to hone their pitching skills. They will pitch to an Avengers-esque line-up of talented writers and editors and receive feedback based on their pitches. The twist? It’ll all be done in a weekend.
The Feedback: Immense.
Allow me to take a moment, on behalf of Team GGW, to thank everyone that submitted a pitch, tweeted about the event, or—bless your souls—critiqued pitches throughout an incredible weekend. We received a whopping 123 pitches and doled out 259 helpings of advice. Take that all in, breathe, and process that for a moment.
123 pitches. 259 pieces of advice.
These are pitches that may or may not have received an answer otherwise, and despite some delays, received them quickly. I will be forever grateful to Susan, Dan, Fran, Nathan, Richard, Ed, Alan, Steve, Patrick, Brian, Andrew, Jamie, Cassandra, Miguel, Rob, Neal, and Mitch for the feedback they provided and for believing in us to pull off such an event. I’d further like to thank Dylan and Adam for the organizational work that went into this, and Scott Nichols for participating in our PM Chat.
Speaking of chats, the ever resourceful Richard Moss logged the second chat, so feel free to read and enjoy that.
If you want to interview us about the event for your website, podcast, or whatever please get in touch!
If you enjoyed the event and think you got something out of it, please email your comments and I’ll send it to our experts…I’m sure it’ll brighten their days when they need it.
To answer the question of whether or not this event is happening again…heck yes it is! But let’s get to the announcements.
Ahoy-hoy and welcome to the #PitchJam.
This is your shot to get two pitches looked at by some of the best writers and editors in games writing. Not only will you have their attention, you’ll also get guaranteed feedback. Yeah, we’re going there.
Here’s what you need: Just send us an email with the subject line being the title of your proposed pitch, and the pitch in the body of the email. We want the pitch itself, and not necessarily the trappings around it (we don’t need to hear that you read our publication/s - that’s assumed) unless you feel that’s crucial.
What email are you sending to? thepitchjam [at] gmail [dot] com, of course!
Make your pitch inspiring. Unless you’ve something earth shattering to say, you probably want to avoid sending pitches about, say, BioShock (the first…Infinite is still fresh). Get creative, and make us salivate thinking about how great the final product of that pitch will look.
Also, keep it short and snappy. That’s part of keeping us entertained and intrigued. Also, like with real pitches, we’re expecting a lot of them. Respect our time just as you would an editor’s.
TWO BIG HUGE LEGAL DISCLAIMERS:
1) This pitch is yours and you own the creative rights to it. But similar pitches are out there (through RSVPing we’ve seen what may be two near-identical pitches) so understand that you may not be alone. Your pitch, and the feedback we give it, belong to you.
2) Given the above, this is NOT A SOLICITATION OF PAID (OR ANY) WORK. We’re not implying that anywhere. If, after you’ve received feedback, you think your pitch is salable then you can pitch away. Have you seen the great publications we have on board for this? They’d probably love to receive a great pitch.
What else can you do to improve your pitch?
You can join in a big ol Twitter discussion with all of us by using #PitchJam. If you have a really rad question, we’ll even make sure it gets published, fully thought out responses that 140 characters just can’t provide. Use that tag to promote the event (please), cheer others on, and engage in a healthy discussion.
There’s also two Google Hangouts scheduled for Saturday at 10 AM Pacific and 6 PM. Pacific. That’s your chance to get some facetime with the rad folks here, and they are rad.
We also have a bunch of blogs on the subject matter across our panel’s network, ranging from a writing prompt (here on GGW) to Pitch Etiquette on susanarendt.com. We’ll share and collate those articles all weekend. In the meantime, you’ve read Up Up Down Down Left Write: The freelance guide to becoming a video game journalist, right?
Finally, who will be fielding your pitches this weekend? Our CONFIRMED list includes:
There’s 18 reasons to join the #PitchJam right there!
Good luck and good pitching!
Our Pitch Jam is rapidly approaching — we hope you’re getting your pitches started by now. If you haven’t yet, that’s OK.
One of the most important parts of pitching is being concise. If you can’t zoom-in and highlight the thesis of your topic—and do it error free, to boot!—then how can you be trusted to tackle a larger treatment?
The Rock Paper Scissors (or is that Shotgun?) Writing Prompt: Your challenge is to concisely describe the game rock, paper, scissors. It’s a game we all know, but putting what we know into simple (and interesting) terms can be a challenge. Your pitch is similar, except instead of everyone knowing it, as they may well with the above game, only YOU know where you want to go. This is an exercise designed to get you writing tight, engaging pitches.
Let’s highlight that again: Your challenge is to concisely describe the game rock, paper, scissors.
The great game journalist Ian Fleming does just this early on in his book You Only Live Twice. Under fair use, here are two parts of his description.
1. Simply descriptive: “The fist is the Stone, two outstretched fingers are the Scissors, and a flat hand is the Paper. The closed fist is hammered twice in the air simultaneously by the two opponents and, at the third downward stroke, the chosen emblem is revealed. The game consists of guessing which emblem the opponent will choose, and of you yourself choosing one that will defeat him. Best of three goes or more. It is a game of bluff.”
Wow, not too shabby, eh? Fleming manages to describe the core mechanics, building to that powerful short sentence at the end. Is this necessarily how you want to present your pitch? No. But the descriptive aspect is what you need to get—just because you know the game or your pitch doesn’t mean your audience, the editor, will.
Update: A quick note here…Fleming describes the hierarchy here just as aptly. In the interest of not having publishers yell at me I’ve left that out. Read the whole section—or the book—for a better view of the game as a whole.
2. Contextual: “Should Bond try and win at this baby game of bluff and double-bluff, or should he try to lose? But to try and lose involved the same cleverness at correctly guessing the other man’s symbol in advance. It was just as difficult to lose on purpose as to win. And anyway did it really matter? Unfortunately, on the curious assignment in which James Bond was involved, he had a nasty feeling that even this idiotic little gambit had significance towards success or failure.”
If your pitch must go on, it absolutely must connect back to the beginning—we want to see the theme explored here—and be written every bit as effectively as the first part. What you get from this excerpt are the stakes of Bond’s gamble: Your pitch may be high stakes too.
If you take a go at this prompt, feel free to submit your attempt here on the blog or via whatever means. We’ll highlight exceptional efforts.
**Adapted from Ian Fleming’s You Only Live Twice, pp.4-5 (Thomas & Mercer: Las Vegas), 2012.