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Review of The Shivah November 2, 2006

Posted by joshg in indie games, Judaism, retro games.
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About a month ago, I mentioned The Shivah, an adventure game that deals strongly with issues of Judaism, and faith in general. (“deals strongly with issues”? Gah, I’ve written too many English essays lately!) To my surprise, Dave Gilbert left a comment offering a review copy, and I gladly took him up on it. The long and the short of it is that I got to play through the entirety of what is not only an excellent indie adventure game, but also one of the best examples of portraying faith through a game that I’ve ever seen.

So, a review (after the break)!

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Everybody Dies September 21, 2006

Posted by joshg in indie games, morality & ethics.
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Introversion Software, makers of the game Darwinia (which I’ve blogged about before), are about to release their newest game, DEFCON. You can find out more at the game’s website, http://www.everybody-dies.com.*

Inspired by the 1983 cult classic film, Wargames, DEFCON superbly evokes the tension, paranoia and suspicion of the Cold War era, playing on the fascinating aspects of psychological gameplay that occur during strategic nuclear warfare.

I’ve already preordered this one via Steam (hey, $5 off the $15 price if you preorder). It hooked me in pretty much instantly; the premise is excellent, the visual style is fantastic, the gameplay sounds like a lot of fun, and the trailer has just the right combination of hype, dry sarcasm, and disturbing imagery reminiscent of Cold War era propaganda.

DEFCON also brings to light some serious ethical questions, and I think Introversion makes it clear that they’re being deliberate in dragging these questions out into the open. The Steam forums for DEFCON have already had people asking questions like, is it right to play a game where your goal is to decimate your enemy’s civilian populations while hopefully only most of your civilians die in the process? Is this game, despite being a military simulation, giving an anti-war message?  Who has these nukes in real life, anyway, and can we trust them with such a horrific power?

There are nine more days to go before I can let you know how the game itself answers the questions it raises.  It’s fantastic to see a game come around that’s able to confront people with this kind of Hard Problem, and look to be a blast to play despite (or because of) it.

* Yes, I linked it twice, because an URL that awesome deserves to be emphasized.

A good overview of “Islamogames” September 19, 2006

Posted by joshg in indie games, Islam.
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1Up has an excellent article, reprinted from their affiliate magazine Computer Gaming World, on the world of (what they term) “Islamogames“.

Though relatively small, Islamogaming is also a diverse field, ranging from amateur projects by students, unabashed anti-Zionist propaganda produced by an internationally recognized terrorist organization, religious games produced to teach Islam to kids, and a set of more sober games designed to explore the complex realities of Middle Eastern history.

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The Rabbi, in the Library, with the Menorah September 16, 2006

Posted by joshg in indie games, Judaism.
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Quoting from the Manifesto Games writeup:

Rabbi Stone Has a Crisis of Faith

Before we go any farther, please notice the headline. When was the last time you heard a game described in remotely similar terms?

The Shivah is an old-style graphical adventure game by Davelgil Games. It’s your everyday “Rabbi questions his faith and becomes a murder suspect” sort of adventure game plot (which is to say, unlike pretty much any game plot ever).

If you’re an old-school PC gamer like myself, you’ll quickly be able to look past the dated graphics – in fact, they might even be a nostalgic throwback to the days of Lucasarts and Sierra adventures. And if you’re interested in works that explore the nature of faith, you’ll probably be hooked immediately by the game’s beginning. What other game opens with a film noir intro speech, follows it up with the Problem of Evil and a confession of lost faith, adds a dash of sarcastic dialogue and then throws in a murder investigation that includes a large donation to the Rabbi in the victim’s will (just in case the hero wasn’t conflicted enough for you yet)?

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That Old Time Pixel Religion June 1, 2006

Posted by joshg in fictional mythology, indie games, reincarnation.
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I just recently treated myself to Darwinia (almost too conveniently available via Steam), an amazing indie game developed by the self-proclaimed bedroom programmers at Introversion Software. While I had tried it out a year or so ago, I hadn't realized just how strong the religious themes are in the game until I played it through to the end.

In the game, you have entered into a digital world populated by self-aware digital beings known as Darwinians. Their creator, Dr. Sepulveda, has designed a self-contained world where the Darwinians can live, grow, and die, and their digital "souls" are reborn as new Darwinians. However, when you stumble across this pixellated land, it has been infested with a red virus which threatens to destroy the Darwinians and all that Dr. Sepulveda has worked to create. You are quickly put to work helping eliminate the virus and shepherding the Darwinians to safety.

Despite the supposed technological setting of a computer-based AI experiment, the game's plot plays out more like a Tron-inspired religious epic. The Darwinian's digital world is a virtual Eden, where they participate in religious pilgrimages and traditions that keep the system running to bring about reincarnation of past souls. The game is filled with concepts directly out of evolutionary computing (a standard computer science technique for machine learning), but gives them a strong religious flair.

(more after the break, with the mildest of spoilers)

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