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Gaff's blog

9:45 PM on 04.15.2013

Violence: Obligatory Subtitle Included

I'll admit, when I first read the Kotaku piece that seemed to spark this whole thing off, at least with regards to BioShock Infinite, I was confused.

"Why are people harping on about this and not the fact that BioShock Infinite is such an amazing game?" I thought. If Brink had taught me anything it was how rare it is for a game to actually stand up to the hype that has been slathered over it for months, often by the publisher (to try and drum up pre-orders).

I read the Kotaku article, and others that have floated around on the same subject (such as the one on Destructoid by Jim Sterling) and while some make good points, I just don't believe in the premise on its face: that games are too violent these days.

One of the things articulated well elsewhere was that the violence in BioShock Infinite actually limits its audience, the fact that there is so much (and it is very gory in places, I freely admit) means that it will only ever have appeal to traditional gamers, and even then it will be a subset: namely people who enjoy story-driven shooters that do not hold back on violent content. I am
absolutely fine with this.

The thing is, when you make something that is so special, so truly spectacular that it is acknowledged far and wide as being one of the very best examples of its medium ever created, you don't then start to critique it in order to widen its appeal even further.

No one got all up in da Vinci's grill when he was painting and told him, "You know, if you make her eyes a little bigger and her hair a little shorter then this would probably look much better. And you should also try to put Nicholas Cage in the background somewhere, too".

No one said to Ridley Scott, "Hey, you've made this amazing science fiction epic about robots, that doubles as an allegory about humanity, and will come to be seen as one of the best films of its generation, but what you really need is a voiceover by the main actor to spoon-feed the narrative to people who have trouble tying their shoelaces in the morning". Ok, well, shit, maybe they did, but they were wrong to do that and were bad, bad people for doing so. They probably clubbed baby seals to death not only just on weekends but also weekdays, too.

BioShock Infinite, and similar games of its ilk, were designed and created with the violence as a part of them, part of their very nature. Perhaps in some alternate universe there is a text-based adventure game version of BioShock currently topping the charts (or maybe it's actually this one), Firefly is about to wrap up its eleventh season, and I'm married to Angelina Jolie, Alison Brie, and Karen Gillan all at the same time, but that's not how things are here now. Perhaps if you stripped the violence out from BioShock Infinite it would make it more akin to Deus Ex: Human Revolution (another truly great game), or maybe it would become Hello Kitty Island Adventure. Either way, it wouldn't be BioShock Infinite anymore. Maybe in that other universe they are all playing the text-based BioShock Infinite and saying to one another, "You know what this game needs? More violence".

I'll put it another way: BioShock Infinite is a game that I am letting my two children play (cue shocked gasps). "How can you do this, Gaff? Won't you (literally) think of the children?"

First off, by way of explanation, I do not let my children play or watch anything M or R-rated without my having played or watched it first. This already makes it a short list, because that is not the kind of media I gravitate towards as a rule. When I said this to a friend the other day he told me, "Well what about the racism? How can you be ok with letting them see that?", to which my response was that I had already had a conversation with my boy and girl (believe me, she's as hardcore as he is, if not more so) about how the game is set in a different time, that some things that were acceptable as cultural norms back then are not acceptable today, and so on.

So yes, while there is no denying that BioShock Infinite is a violent, intense, thematic game, this is not a bad thing. It was conceived, funded, written, and created as precisely this sort of game, and that is the sort of game it is. Should it not be your cup of tea (and I'm sure there are plenty of people it won't appeal to) then there are literally thousands of other games in existence, at least one of which will probably cater to your likes and interests. Please do not try to mess with perfection though, just for it having committed the crime of including some aspects that you may personally find distasteful.

And if you are someone that is on the fence about playing something like BioShock Infinite, would you kindly just try it out and make up your own mind?   read

3:54 PM on 09.27.2011

Obscurity: What is PlanetSide?

Every once in a while if I'm talking to someone I don't know well, the topic often moves to gaming, and will include the question "What's your favourite game?"

To which I always reply "PlanetSide. And I'm really looking forward to PlanetSide 2." Usually a short period of silence will follow, perhaps three or four seconds, ended by the inevitable "PlanetSide? What's that?"

Thus the cycle begins anew, and I have to explain that PlanetSide was the first (and basically only) MMOFPS, released waaaaaaaaaay back in 2003 by Sony Online Entertainment. It was a futuristic sci-fi shooter in which hundreds of players could be on the same continent / map simultaneously and had three factions that you could choose to play as: the militaristic Terran Republic, breakaway New Conglomerate or technological Vanu Sovereignty. There were common vehicles and empire-specific vehicles you could use, including tanks, jeeps, assault aircraft and troop carriers, with each having their own strengths and weaknesses.

Sadly a combination of a buggy client, unstable servers, rampant unchecked hacking, an almost complete lack of marketing for the game as well as a rushed and poorly-received expansion pack (Core Combat) helped to essentially sabotage what could have been a slam-dunk for Sony. Instead, the game started to haemorrhage players (it had maybe 100,000 active subscribers at its peak, shortly after release) until a year or so later there were only a small amount of hardcore players left. Trying to play an MMO where the selling point is shooting people in the face, without many people around to shoot in the face, was a difficult prospect, and its slow death began.

It's still around today (at full whack too, if you feel like giving Sony $15 a month to try it out), but that's not why you should care.

In late 2009 rumours began to swirl of a possible sequel being hinted by SOE. Many former subscribers received an email survey from Sony asking what features in particular they would like to see in PlanetSide 2, should they decide to go ahead and make it. Nothing was heard for over a year, until John Smedley confirmed to The Escapist in a late 2010 interview that PlanetSide 2 was on its way.

Fast-forward to now, and PlanetSide 2 is still under development over at SOE (having benefitted from the cancellation of The Agency), although information is slowly beginning to trickle out. The game was "officially" revealed at SOE's Fan Faire earlier this year in July and is now live (it was previously registered by a fan who sold the domain to SOE a while ago, fueling talk of a sequel). As of a few weeks ago we know the game will be free-to-play with some kind of cash shop utilising microtransactions. The three original empires will be returning, alongside many (but probably not all) of the myriad of vehicles you could drive / pilot / ride from the original. Instead of being able to simply train in whatever certifications you liked as in the original game, the sequel will see you select a specific class and then develop it through a skill tree, although you will be able to change to different specs on the fly whenever you respawn.

Why should you care? Because this could be Big. Certainly franchises like the Battlefield series and Modern Warfare would not exist in their current forms if it were not for the influence of PlanetSide. And when you think about it, when you consider that FPS games are the most popular game types played on online services like XBL, PSN and Steam, then shouldn't an MMOFPS be the next logical step in their evolution? A world in which there is persistence and where your choices matter? Do you defend base X and risk letting the enemy surround you, or do you go on the offensive but risk losing your route of escape? These are all questions that PlanetSide asks.

The only game that has tried something even remotely close to the scale of PlanetSide is MAG on the PS3. While a solid title, that still caps out at 256 v 256. I have been in some epic PlanetSide battles where it was over a thousand people duking it out at the same time. You finally manage to fight one faction off only to be assailed from the opposite side by the third faction, and it begins all over again. Global Agenda promised epic gameplay but did not deliver, and through careful Xen training and meditation I have managed to forget that the name Huxley ever existed (if you don't know what that is then for God's sake don't look it up, you are better off not knowing).

The devs have recently said that they hope to get the beta of PlanetSide 2 up and running before the end of this year, with a view to release Q1/2 next year. For me and for many of my friends, it cannot come soon enough.   read

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