Monthly Archives: June 2014

Who wants a prototype Playstation 3?

Want a prototype Playstation 3?  You know the one with the infamous ‘batarang controller’ announced by Sony at E3 2005?  Well I know where to get one.  At least according to the Australian Retailer Wow Sight and Sound’s website, you can get one there!  The screen grab from the website is right on the front page advertising a HUGE COLLECTION OF ITEMS – complete with an image of the prototype PS3 controller.

With the Playstation 3 so cheap these days you’d be crazy not to buy one.  Just don’t expect it to look like that when it arrives.

 

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E3 is consumerism at its very best (and very worst).

As Lucius wrote a couple of days ago, E3 2014 gave everyone something to be excited about.  Nintendo came out fighting and exploded the internet in the process, while Sony and Microsoft justified their record breaking sales figures for the new-ish Playstation 4 and Xbox One consoles respectively by announcing plenty of amazing and groundbreaking software appearing on their platforms in the coming two years.  If E3 is one big sales pitch it well and truly succeeded, and I can only imagine the triggers being pulled on pre-orders for games being released in the distant future by itchy-fingers.

Exclusive to EB Games for the low-low price of $219.99.

Exclusive to EB Games for the low-low price of $219.99.

Even I got in on the action, preordering the admittedly amazing looking Witcher 3 Collector’s edition, which will sit proudly alongside my dusty (by also admittedly amazing) Witcher 2 Collector’s edition.  A waste of money?  Absolutely.  But that’s what happens when you’re high on E3 adrenaline, and if I weren’t more disciplined I could’ve probably spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars based purely on teaser trailers and short snippets of gameplay footage.

And in previous years I may have done that.  I may have pre-ordered more games than I could possibly play.  I may have pre-ordered games I felt compelled to play.  I may have even pre-ordered games that I knew I was never going to play.  It was consumerism at its worst and it got me into a situation where I have shelves overflowing into plastic containers full of games I will likely never get around to playing.  Luckily, those days are over.

Sadly, this is only a small part of a bigger problem.

Sadly, this is only a small part of a bigger problem.

 

You see, I recently got engaged and have a wedding to pay for – something I am incredibly, incredibly excited about.  I want that memorable day to remember for the rest of my life, but that costs money.  While I knew it wasn’t going to be cheap, I wasn’t prepared for just how expensive it was going to be, as I watch future income flash before my eyes.  Let’s just say every dollar not spent on subsisting will be going into a well-secured bank account located deep within a dank dark vault and guarded by a very, very angry cerberus.  Basically I need to tighten my belt and put my serious saving hat on.

That leaves very little money for buying games for the foreseeable future and so what I do buy has to have legs.  I need to get fully invested in these games enough to want to spend months and months at a time with them.  I need more games to join the ranks as the Pro Evolution Soccer series and NHL series as perennial favourites.  As someone that doesn’t play multiplayer games, that’s harder than it sounds.

But i’m actually excited about changing my gaming habits.  E3 is the very embodiment of the increasing consumerist behaviour plaguing western society, something it feeds on as it tells you what to think, what to play, and how to play it.  It is one big advertisement wrapped up in a big and bombastic spectacle.  And I’m now impervious to it.  I just need to find the game that will continue keep my eyes away from the new release section of my nearest retailer.  Suggestions welcome.

PES2014SS

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That Was The E3 That Was

So, E3 is over for another year, and I can finally stop checking gaming websites for E3 updates every five minutes. Undoubtedly the biggest controversy of the show was Ubisoft’s terrible gaffe about Assassin’s Creed: Unity, but in terms of sheer headline grabbing, there was nothing to compare to last year’s PR war between Microsoft and Sony. In fact, it was surprising to see a new, humble side to Microsoft under the leadership of Phil Spencer, who credited the “amazing games” made by Nintendo and Sony.

One theme that stood out was delays – the gaming drought looks set to continue, as lots of big titles were pushed back to or revealed for 2015, leaving the Christmas 2014 line up looking fairly sparse. But on the plus side, there were some very exciting games unveiled, not least by Nintendo, who in my opinion came out of E3 in much better shape than Sony or Microsoft. Not only did they unveil a tantalising list of new games, many of them new IP, they followed up their slickly produced (and hilarious) 45-minute Digital Event with reveals of new games and information throughout the week via the Nintendo Treehouse YouTube channel. Plus they arguably caused the biggest buzz of the show with the reveal of a stunning new Zelda game for the Wii U.

The new Zelda on Wii U - Nintendo claims this is all in-game footage. Wow.

The new Zelda on Wii U – Nintendo claims this is all in-game footage. Wow.

Frankly, I wanted to rush out and buy all of the games in Nintendo’s line-up, not least Yoshi’s Woolly World, which had such kitten-in-a-teacup-playing-with-a-duckling-in-slippers levels of cuteness that I was practically welling up. (Let It Die this most definitely wasn’t, although that game gets kudos for having possibly the best name since Run Like Hell.) Other Nintendo highlights were Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (need!), Super Smash Bros. Wii U (which looks better every time I see it), Splatoon (such a great idea for a competitive shooter) and Code Name: STEAM (which is a cross between XCOM and HP Lovecraft – sign me up now).

Yoshi's Woolly World - so cute it makes me want to throw up rainbows.

Yoshi’s Woolly World – so cute it makes me want to throw up rainbows.

Microsoft had a bit of a mixed bag of games by comparison. The announcement of Halo: The Master Chief Collection, which includes remasters of Haloes 1 to 4, didn’t exactly set my world alight, but that’s the big game MS are banking on this Christmas. I’ve only just got around to playing through Halo 4, so I’m not in any rush to play through the earlier games again… plus I definitely have a sense of diminishing returns with the Halo series, certainly in the single player campaigns, and I’ve long since given up on attempting to follow the labyrinthine plot.

By comparison, Sunset Overdrive looked a lot more fun, and Rise of the Tomb Raider is a game I’m really looking forward to. Scalebound, on the other hand, was a bit of an odd one: An Xbox One exclusive, it’s being developed by Platinum, whose games I adore, but the trailer left me stony faced. White-haired guy who looks a bit like Dante, giant fire-breathing dragon… all things we’ve seen a hundred times before. Ms. D was watching the trailer over my shoulder, and I asked her what she thought. “Looks just like a video game,” she concluded. “Just like any old video game.” Oooh, she can be cutting when she wants to be. Cutting but incisive.

Hold on, was that a giant enemy crab in the trailer? It’s clear that Sony don’t have the monopoly on them when it comes to E3 presentations…

Perhaps the highlight of Microsoft’s presentation was the indie reel, which I’d highly recommend you to watch. Sadly, the games flashed by far too quickly for my liking, but Ori and the Blind Forest looks stunning, and other stand outs include White Night, Below, Habitat and Lifeless Planet. But perhaps Cuphead is the game that stood out most for me, perhaps because it’s the one that’s most likely to give me nightmares with its evil Disney stylings.

Cuphead, like being sucked into a 1930s cartoon and FIGHTING FOR YOUR LIFE.

Cuphead, like being sucked into a 1930s cartoon and FIGHTING FOR YOUR LIFE.

Sony also had a bit of a mixed bag of games, although there were perhaps a few more I’d want to play than in the Microsoft presentation, not least of which is the promised remake of Grim Fandango. I missed out on the game first time around, so I’d love to play a shiny new version. Is it enough to persuade me to buy a PS4? No. But it’s certainly helping the decision.

If there’s one game I’d buy a PS4 for (or an Xbox One for that matter), it’s Batman: Arkham Knight, which looks simply stunning. The trailer featured in Sony’s presentation blew me away, and it’s perhaps the first game I’ve seen that really makes the most of the next-gen power at the developers’ disposal. “Look, the cut scenes are indistinguishable from the main game! Wowweeeeeeeeee!” says my inner child.

Otherwise, the game everyone was talking about after Sony’s show (even BBC News) was No Man’s Sky, which admittedly looks amazing (see trailer above), especially considering it’s an indie game made by a tiny team. The idea of being able to explore an effectively infinite game space stuffed with unique planets and animals sounds enticing, but I second the question voiced by Ms. D: “What do you do?” I imagine planet exploration could get dull fairly quickly as you catalogue yet another animal that’s only slightly different from the last one. I’ll reserve judgement on No Man’s Sky until I know a bit more about it.

Overall, the game of the show for me was undoubtedly Zelda: the new graphical style looks stunning, and the move towards an open world is a much-needed change for the series. Can’t wait for this one. Let’s watch the trailer again.

How about you? What were your highlights of E3?

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Why We Need Women In Video Games

As you may have read already, Ubisoft creative director Alex Amancio caused a bit of controversy at the E3 gaming conference by saying that there are no female assassins in the upcoming Assassin’s Creed: Unity because it would have been too much work to put them in. His exact words were:

“It’s double the animations, it’s double the voices, all that stuff and double the visual assets. Especially because we have customizable assassins. It was really a lot of extra production work. It’s not like we could cut our main character, so the only logical option, the only option we had, was to cut the female avatar.”

Understandably, quite a few people were upset by the idea that putting women into a game counts as ‘extra’ production work, and the gaming media leapt on the statement. Similar revelations emerged around another Ubisoft game, Far Cry 4. Ubisoft stepped up to clarify the original statement, and Amancio claimed his wording was a “slip up”. But the furore surrounding the issue shows how contentious it is.

Ubisoft had the resources to recreate 18th century Paris, but not to include female assassins...

Ubisoft had the resources to recreate 18th century Paris, but not to include female assassins…

Admittedly, some media outlets may be guilty of fanning the flames of outrage with this story, but the amount of comments that have been added to each post on the subject show that it’s a big deal. What’s interesting, however, is how neatly divided the comments have been between people who see the ‘slip up’ as indicative of the underlying sexism in games and people who declare it a ‘non-issue’ (example quote: “Why does everything have to turn out into a battle of human rights and equality these days?”).

It saddens me that so many people won’t even acknowledge that there is a problem with female under-representation in games – and indeed their misrepresentation. As I’ve written before, women have historically been an afterthought in gaming history, and when they do appear it’s more often than not with big boobs and short skirt – i.e. women viewed from a male perspective. Strong female characters like Ellie in The Last of Us and Jade in Beyond Good and Evil are the exceptions that prove the rule.

I can empathise with people who don’t think that this is an issue, because for them it probably isn’t an issue. Such commenters are overwhelmingly male, are more than likely to prefer playing male avatars to female avatars, and are more than happy to be served up with idealised visions of highly sexualised women. Despite shifts in the gaming demographic, the majority of gamers are still men, most games are still made by men, and many gamers probably don’t think twice about it. But maybe they should.

Imagine you’re a woman (if you are a woman, this will be easy). The vast majority of games – Watch Dogs, Wolfenstein, Grand Theft Auto, etc, etc – plonk you in charge of a man. The overwhelming message is: “these are toys for boys, women aren’t welcome”. You might feel alienated. Some men claim that they find it difficult to inhabit a female avatar – if that’s true, then imagine how female gamers feel. As Leon Hurtley said on Kotaku: “Thinking about the Assassin’s Creed news this morning made me realise that if I was a girl almost every game would be [alienating].”

Assassin's Creed: Liberation DID feature a female lead.

Assassin’s Creed: Liberation DID feature a female lead.

You could argue that if the majority of gamers are men, then companies are perfectly within their rights to target that majority. And this makes sense up to a certain point – but imagine if society was run like that. Governments that continually ignore the wishes of minorities don’t tend to last long.

But it’s not just that female characters are scarce in games: publishers actively discriminate against female leads. The developers of Remember Me told how they were turned away by publishers who said: “You can’t have a female character in games. It has to be a male character, simple as that.” As Dontnod creative director Jean-Maxime Moris says, with thinking like that, “there’s no way the medium’s going to mature”.

The gaming world is sexist, simple as that. The industry has been stuck in a protracted adolescence that it is struggling to shake off. Signs of maturity are emerging, particularly in some of the thoughtful work coming out of the indie scene, but it’s a slow process. We know the reasons for this: a (largely unfounded) perception that men don’t want to play as females; the perception by many (male) gamers that nothing needs to change; and the misfounded reasoning from some publishers that games with female characters don’t sell as well (somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny).

This thinking has to change. The relegation of women to second-class citizens in the gaming world is frankly embarrassing and, even worse, damaging. Think of all the children playing video games who will grow up thinking that it’s the norm to play as a man and that women always have secondary roles. Is that how we want women to be perceived?

So how can we fix this? Some people have floated the idea of publishers enforcing ‘quotas’ for female characters, but such positive discrimination smacks of tokenism. However, there does need to be a change in how developers approach the way they make games. I’d wager that much of the perceived sexism in games is unintentional – it just doesn’t occur to male-dominated design teams that they need to include women or, in the case of the Assassin’s Creed affair, it comes up as a secondary concern. An easy way to change this would be to circulate a simple checklist at the start of development:

  • What gender will the main character be?
  • Why?
  • Can we offer a choice of genders?
  • How would the female characters in our game be perceived by a woman?
  • Would our game pass the Bechdel test?

Not all games have to feature women, in the same way that not all films or TV shows have to feature men. In some cases featuring a single gender is appropriate to the story. But asking simple questions like those above would be a start towards setting the balance straight. We need more women in games because at the moment, half of our society gets short shrift in one of our biggest entertainment mediums.

Remember Me was rejected by publishers for featuring a female protagonist.

Remember Me was rejected by publishers for featuring a female protagonist.

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From The Armchair: E3 Hopes and Dreams

ArmchairWhat-ho, chums!

I’ve just returned from five glorious days in sun-kissed Sicily, and the shock of returning to the griminess of The Big Smoke has yet to soften, although some rare outbreaks of London sunshine are helping to alleviate the transition. As Ms. D and I were waiting for our flight home, I had a quick peek at my phone to check whether the internet was still there after five days of online abstinence on my part. I was glad to find the information superhighway in full working order, and I proceeded to flick through my usual gaming haunts for any exciting news.

“What are you looking at?” asked Ms. D.

“I’m reading about E3,” I replied.

“What’s E3?” she asked, quizzically.

“It’s… well…,” I began, struggling to explain the significance of the event, “It’s like the equivalent of the Oscars for video games, except there are no prizes.” She understandably looked confused. I tried again. “It’s a bit like Christmas for gamers. No, it’s bigger than Christmas!” She looked sceptical. I pressed on. “It’s when all the companies announce their latest games,” I said, simply. She seemed satisfied and went back to reading her book, although I wasn’t particularly satisfied with my explanation. It’s more than just gaming announcements – it’s the hype frenzy, the media circus, the heightened anticipation, the mud-slinging between the console giants, the spending of vast sums of money on glitz and celebrities. In short, it’s a lot of fun.

This year, E3 feels more important than ever. After the massive PR win by Sony at last year’s E3, expectations for high-profile clashes between Sony and Microsoft are high, and Nintendo are rumoured to have something special under wraps, with lots of speculation about the release of Mario NFC figurines and new software coming before Christmas. More than anything though, expectation is high because the gaming world is in a bit of a slump right now: the release schedule is like a desert at the moment, with little but the usual yearly instalments being lined up for Christmas. Of course, we’ve just been treated to the glorious Watch Dogs/Wolfenstein/Mario Kart 8 triumvirate of releases, but there’s not much else coming up on the calendar.

The Luigi Death Stare meme has had me in stitches: http://www.kotaku.co.uk/2014/06/04/best-luigi-death-stare-videos

The Luigi Death Stare meme has had me in stitches: http://www.kotaku.co.uk/2014/06/04/best-luigi-death-stare-videos

That’s probably a good thing for me at least: it’ll give me some time to plough through my backlog before the next wave of must-play games. But even so, I’m hoping for the announcement of new Zelda and Metroid games, and hopefully something new in the Fallout and Mass Effect worlds. I’d love a new XCOM too (although I’ve still yet to play through Enemy Within from last year), and I’m keen to see more of Bayonetta 2 and Mad Max.

In the meantime though, I can see Mario Kart 8 will be keeping me busy for months to come. It’s the first video game that Ms. D has gotten excited about in a long time, and it’s been a long, long time since I played a video game this fun. I’m also happily finding my way through The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, although Hyrule exploration has been temporarily put on hold due to the purchase of Batman Origins: Blackgate, which was on sale at 75% off on the eShop last week. It’s a fun little game that’s got me thoroughly hooked, although obviously it’s much slimmed down in comparison to its console cousin. The odd 2.5D graphics were a bit confusing at first, and the 2D map is utterly useless, but I love the Metroidvania gameplay. Definitely worth a pop for the price.

For the next week, however, I’ll be glued to the news feeds, lapping up all the latest gaming annoucements from E3. Let me know what games you’re looking forward to in the comments below.

Of course, the only downside to E3 is the animalistic whooping in the press conferences... come on guys, calm down.

Of course, the only downside to E3 is the animalistic whooping in the press conferences… come on guys, calm down.

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Tap to tag a friend

WatchDogsPS4You don’t have to look very far in Ubisoft’s Watch_Dogs to see how much time they’ve put into creating a realistic and immersive world, and with every person inhabiting the virtual Chicago having a back story, you could spend hours upon hours poring over every minute detail – some of it tragic and some of it funny.

But part of the fun of Watch_Dogs is what i’ll call the ‘meta-game’ – the personal and unique tales that will be talked about amongst friends and on the internet – that makes it such a stroke of game design genius.  The ability to share all of this quickly and easily with the new generation of hardware just perpetuates an already inherently ‘social’ game premise.  Watch_Dogs will stay in the public consciousness by virtue of the spontaneity and uniqueness of everyone’s personal in-game experiences.

As we’ve seen with Mario Kart 8, and the now infamous Luigi death stare meme, games now have a much wider reach than previously, with a propensity to go viral than unmatched by any other time in gaming history.  As a result these games are being defined not by playing them necessarily, but how they are being disseminated virally online.

While Mario Kart 8 hasn’t necessarily brought out the inner online media socialite in me, Watch_Dogs has, and I’ve found myself sharing all manner of videos and screen captures online.  Some were of incredible one-off moments and others of interesting profiles of the plethora of people populating the incredibly dense world Ubisoft has created.  But it wasn’t until I posted a screenshot of a profile of one Spencer Lawley-Jones on Facebook that I realised the potential for Watch_Dogs to be the first game to show the potential for videogames to invade the mainstream online consciousness, and the almost boundless potential for fan fiction to exist outside of the game itself.

You see I came across Spencer Lawley-Jones walking around a normal everyday suburban Chicago street.  An unassuming 30-something man wearing a baseball cap, a nice woolen jumper, and a pair of jeans – Spencer was the kind of guy you’d take no notice of.  Working as a bank teller by day, he’s the kind of guy you’d imagine would invite a few friends around on a Friday night to watch the football.  He probably drinks, but not a lot, and his main vice is the once a month he gets together with the guys from the office for a poker night, where he’ll smoke the only cigar he’ll smoke until the next poker night, and will lose $20 because his poker face isn’t so good.  He’s your average hard-working American joe.

He also happens to have been fined for indecent exposure.

I was taken aback by the revelation about Spencer Lawley Jones, so much so that I felt the need to share it with friends and family.  And that’s when Facebook asked me to “Tap to Tag a Friend”.   I considered it for a moment, “who could I tag as being the guy fined for indecent exposure?”, but decided against it for fear of hitting a raw nerve or accidentally upsetting someone.  But I took a screenshot of the moment for posterity, because years from now it is moments like these – moments in real life – that will define my memories and personal relationship with a game that I think will be remembered as a leap forward in immersion in video games.

WatchDogsScreen

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If you don’t remember the 90’s, you don’t know the meaning of hype

Hype is an absolutely amazing and wonderful thing that is sure to play into your future nostalgia in a very significant way.  While sometimes it can lead to unfounded excitement once you’ve got your shiny new game home, usually it is enough to build an incredibly strong memory of playing a game that will last you well into the future.

The onset of the internet and the constant bombardment of information has made it easier than ever before for publishers and developers to build hype for their games.  Advertisements, interviews, screenshots – information is drip-fed directly into our brains, slowly but surely building excitement and giving products positive momentum and consumer sentiment leading up to release.

But unless you were around in the 90’s you don’t know the meaning of hype.  A new intellectual property these days is met with an inherent excitement based purely around potential.  But in the 80’s and 90’s – a time ruled by the arcades – we were excited about very different game releases.  It wasn’t the new game teased on websites, or announced at E3 the previous year that we were running down to our local bricks and mortar store to preorder.  No,  we were excited about games we had played before, many of us routinely or obsessively for years.  Games we had probably paid the price of twice over in quarters.  Games we had been talking turkey with friends about in the schoolyard for the last two years. And games that we couldn’t believe we were getting to play in the comfort of our own homes.

We were excited about arcade game conversions.

Ryu

And what a time it was to be playing games, as these technical tour de forces were adorning screens across the neighbourhood.  There was no room for smoke and mirrors or broken promises.  The hype wasn’t something created and curated, but something organic that came from the genuine excitement of bringing your favourite arcade game home.  We knew exactly what we were getting when we took Street Fighter II home for the first time on the Super Nintendo, but it didn’t make it any less exciting.  It was a time when the console market boomed in Australia on the back of home ports of arcade games, as people clambered to get their hands on their favourite arcade game, and console manufacturers invented the (largely baseless) term “arcade perfect” to get an edge of their competitors.  There was a very tangible excitement lingering in the air of retailers that I haven’t seen since, and in all likelihood, will never seen again.  We weren’t excited  about a promise or potential, we were excited about an already established love and adoration.  In a way we had built our own hype, and all the marketing teams were doing was giving us a little nudge.  But it was this organic hype that made it so memorable because there was no big come down once we actually got our hands on the game.

Of course hype is still big business and key to filling the wallets of games industry shareholders and CEOs across the world.  But the equation is not the simple one it used to be, and preorders aside,  it is often the metacritic score that does the talking, as games more than ever rely on the big green light from critics.  Hype is important, but its no longer crucial with the onset of the 24 hour news cycle.  While there is a part of me that is glad consumers are more empowered than they perhaps have been in the past, I still feel profound sense of nostalgia (and sadness) for the good old days, where posters advertising upcoming games had kids begging their parents for advances on their pocket money, and kids flicked through catalogues planning their birthday and christmas lists based purely on box art.  But it was a different world where we weren’t betting on an unknown horse, but on a surefire winner. It was a time where there was a tangible excitement about something new, about the future, about video games.  Sure it may have been hype, but it is that bombastic attitude toward selling products that I remember the most fondly about video games in the 90’s.  And like many artefacts I’ve held onto since childhood, this poster advertising the release of Super Street Fighter II’s release on the SEGA Mega Drive, is a reminder of that time.  I will always remember that Super Street Fighter II was a 40MB cartridge, but I have no idea how big the modern blockbuster is.  Hyper isn’t just a fleeting feeling, it is a key component of my nostalgia.  And I’m eternally grateful to those marketers for that.

Have a favourite arcade port, or memory of the hype leading up to the home release of an arcade blockbuster?  Let us know in the comments.

SSF2 Mega Drive

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