Category Archives: video games

The best Canadian-made games of 2013

don-t-starve5The year is drawing to a close and I’m on vacation, so you know what that means: it’s time for wrap-up lists. Yessir, it’s that annual tradition where news outlets and even bloggers pre-emptively fill space with retrospectives of the year that was, so that we can all go out and drink booze at holiday parties - or sun ourselves on a Mexican beach, as it were.

A good place to start, I think, is to take a look back at the year in games. I’ve penned a few retrospectives for the Globe and Mail that should be running this week, but in this space I thought I’d focus in on Canada specifically.

The past year was a bit of an off one for the games industry, given the console transition taking place starting in November. Many developers threw their resources into designing new games for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, with the majority of that fruit not expected till next year. In 2013, it was thus slimmer pickings as publishers relied mainly on churning out more and more sequels, with fewer true standouts. That certainly held true with Canadian developers.

That said, it’s generally easy to compile a list of at least 10 good, made-in-Canada games any year, given the sheer volume of quality pumped out by our developers. Here are my subjective 10 favourite of the year: Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on December 16, 2013 in video games


Unions aren’t the answer for games industry

Hinterland's The Long Dark: better than unions?

Hinterland’s The Long Dark: better than unions?

Further to yesterday’s post on inequality, there was an interesting screed on labour issues in the video game industry this past weekend over at Jacobin. If you’re not familiar with the publication, it bills itself as “a leading voice of the American left, offering socialist perspectives on politics, economics, and culture,” so yeah, it was obvious where the story was going to go.

The article takes aim at how big video game companies overwork and underpay their employees, at least as compared to other software jobs. Among its most egregious findings is that a “whopping 84 per cent of respondents work ‘crunch time,’ those notorious 41+ hour work weeks which line up with the end of big projects. Of those, 32 per cent worked 61-80 hours week (and usually goes on for months).” The game industry, it appears, readily takes advantage of young workers who have a passion for the medium.

The proposed solution, which really shouldn’t be surprising given Jacobin’s political bent, is unionization - that workers need to get organized and demand better treatment from management.

The labour issues certainly do exist and a good number of employees, if you talk to them, do complain about long hours and sometimes tedious work if they’re on the lower rungs of the company. But unionization is a terrible idea that ignores the naturally occurring, self-correcting solution already under way. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on November 12, 2013 in video games


Remember when brand didn’t trump art in games?


Today, Doom would probably just have been Wolfenstein 2.

It’s Call of Duty day, which would typically be the biggest day of the year in entertainment (technically), given how much money Activision’s annual shooter brings in. This year, the storied franchise - now in its 10th year and iteration - is unlikely to be the biggest breadwinner, given how incredibly fast Grand Theft Auto V hit a billion dollars (it took only three days), but it will still make some handsome bank.

As a long-time fan, I actually quite enjoyed this year’s installment, Call of Duty: Ghosts, more so than the past few releases. You can read my full review here. I also wrote a quick piece that tries to explain to non-fans why the series - and first-person shooters in general - are so popular.

In putting together a sidebar for that story about the most important FPS games in the history of the medium, I noticed a fascinating trend that seems to say something poignant about the times we’re living in: brand has become a stronger selling feature than the artist, at least in games. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on November 5, 2013 in video games


Why no vampire games? Blame Twilight

bloodrayne-2-wallpapers_18432_1680x1050I recently had a chance to have a very Halloween-themed discussion with Josh Bridge, executive producer and creative lead at Capcom Vancouver on the Dead Rising 3 video game for the upcoming Xbox One console. Much of the conversation centred on zombies and why they seem to be everywhere in pop culture these days.

His take on it - which is detailed more fully in a piece I wrote up for the Globe and Mail - was intriguing, in that he blames (or credits) the trend to terrorism. The War on Terror, ongoing since 2001, has succeeded in kicking up a lot of fear and dread that is now manifesting itself in zombie fiction, he says. Zombie stories, after all, usually deal with themes such as unexpected disaster and man’s inhumanity to man.

Interestingly, I deal with another horror sub-genre - vampires - in my upcoming book Humans 3.0. Vampires are another kind of monster that, if you’ll excuse the pun, refuses to die. Like zombies, they seem to be everywhere in pop culture too. I spoke to legendary vampire author Anne Rice about why this is and her thoughts were illuminating: Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on October 30, 2013 in video games


Grand Theft Auto as an operating system?

gtavMy apologies for missing a post on Monday, I was on vacation in San Andreas. That’s not a real place, of course, it’s the fictionalized world of Grand Theft Auto V, which is sure to become the biggest game of the year after its release today (Tuesday).

I’m not exaggerating about the vacation, though. The world of San Andreas and its central city Los Santos, both patterned after California and Los Angeles respectively, is an incredible technical masterpiece. As I said in my review, there has never been such a massive and meticulously crafted virtual environment before. Other critics have said the same, with The Guardian finding that “every millimetre of the landscape has been thoughtfully handcrafted with the curious gamer in mind” and Polygon declaring that “the fictional sun-bleached state of San Andreas is a technical achievement, a farewell kiss to this generation of consoles and the millions who own them.”

There have been other amazing accomplishments in the field of virtual worlds in recent years - Ubisoft Montreal’s Assassin’s Creed 3 comes to mind - but none have been as fun, or as funny, as GTA V. The developers at Rockstar North have figured out that it’s not just enough to design a remarkably real world, it also has to be populated with enjoyable things to do. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on September 17, 2013 in video games


Splinter Cell: Blacklist puts linear games on notice

Grim_and_Sam_abroad_PaladinIt’s a big week for Ubisoft Toronto, the French video game company’s newest studio, as it’s releasing its first game, Splinter Cell: Blacklist. The game has been under development for more than three years and, by most accounts, it’s been worth it - it’s got an 82 (out of 100) rating on review aggregator Metacritic.

Over at the Globe and Mail, we gave the game - a highly polished and thoroughly engrossing action adventure - a nine out of ten. I was most impressed with how new Blacklist feels, even though it’s the sixth core entry in the franchise. Having had a further week to digest it, I’m also thinking it will end up being an influential game over time.

As I explained in my review, I very much liked how the developers made a relatively linear game - one that requires the player to move from point A to point B - feel like anything but. They did so by taking the traditional menu system found in many games, where players typically select between solo campaigns, multiplayer modes and co-operative missions, and incorporating it into the story itself. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on August 21, 2013 in ubisoft, video games


Where’s the demand for a Google game console?

tablet-gamesI read the funniest thing the other day courtesy of The Wall Street Journal: “Google Inc. is developing a video game console and wrist watch powered by its Android operating system, according to people familiar with the matter, as the internet company seeks to spread the software beyond smartphones and tablets.” It was funny because I’m not sure which of those - the game console or the wrist watch - is the worse idea.

Earlier this year, when the Apple smart watch rumours were bubbling, I wrote (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) about how such a device would only appeal to a very small segment of the population. For some reason, the tech press and now the WSJ continue to beat this drum like it’s some sort of big deal. A whole host of tech companies, from Apple to Google to Microsoft to Samsung, may very well eventually offer smart watches, but unless I’m having a total failure of imagination, such devices will quickly be forgotten as curiosities.

The Android-powered game console may actually the worse idea of the two, thanks mainly to the recently released Ouya. That Android-based project, famous for its big success on Kickstarter, is proving to be a half-baked effort, with reviews mixed at best. In my take on it, I found the Ouya to be almost unplayable given the major lag with its controller, not to mention a dearth of games that I would want to spend any amount of time with. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on July 2, 2013 in Google, video games


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