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The new Tomb Raider is an Xbox One exclusive. As a result we can expect it to be much darker, and full of adult themes. As we know, grit and sex sells.
Resulting in the rise of womb raiders among all players. That's a boner joke people... I'm here all week.
2014 was a strange of a year for videogames, and serves as a predictor for what we might expect from the industry in future. For the sake of simplicity, I will discount mobile games as they follow slightly different rules to gaming on more traditional platforms. The year can probably most best be characterized by a glaring fact which was reflected in several different forms throughout the year. If does, however, cast a shadow on other signals which show that the industry is growing, evolving, and hopefully, improving. One of the most well-documented evolutions is the rather tepid reception of the year's major releases on behalf of both critics and gamers. It is not very often that videogames make it to major news outlets, and when they do, it is usually very superficial, and omits anything negative, becoming effectively some form of commercial.
“The Milk from this Cash Cow has Gone Sour”
2014's best-sellers consisted largely of the usual suspects. Call of Duty, Halo's spirit child in the form of Destiny, and GTA. There is no surprise here. That is, until we compare the sales figures. In 2013, the two best selling games topped 10 million in sales, with only one of the top 10 being selling less than 3 million units. In 2014, only the top 3 sold more than 3 million units. While not failures by any stretch of the imagination, games such as Titanfall,Sunset Overdrive, Destiny, Assassin's Creed: Unity, Far Cry 4, and Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare did not reach the sales levels and critical acclaim expected. This was seen by the fact that Destiny did not promise the revolution that had been expected. Titanfall did not become the next CoD. Finally, Ubisoft's games seemed to tread the same ground, timidly, but in a much buggier fashion. Although the sales did not produce the level of disappointment that Tomb Raider, Hitman: Absolution, and Sleeping Dogs did for their developers, the reception was nowhere near what they expected. Let's hope that this means that more energy will be consecrated to content which is made for more than just trying to find the magic formula for the next biggest franchise. 2014 did yield some positive news, however.
Finally a Good Year for the Wii U
Since the last two years of the Wii's life, Nintendo's console presence has been largely overlooked. So far, the Wii U's life has been very sad. Low sales and little third-party support did seem to hail the firm's demise not too long ago. Nintendo is finally releasing games for its console, and people appear to be paying attention at last. Three of the year's best games were Wii U exclusives, and at least one, and sometimes all three have made it to annual Top 10s. Bayonetta 2, Mario Kart, and Super Smash Bros for Wii U. This is certainly sign that Nintendo is picking up speed in terms of supporting its home console. Next year's new Zelda and Starfox games will hopefully help bring the console back from the dead and not leave it lost and forgotten like that other attempt to synthesize a cash cow known as ZombiU.
Other Good News
Some of the year's bigger critical hits have been surprising, some of which coming out to almost no fanfare, but still demonstrating considerable success all things taken into account. What have the most successful games been this year? Shadow of Mordor, HearthStone, Transistor, Shovel Knight, South Park:the Stick of Truth, Dark Souls 2, This War of Mine, are all among the year's biggest success stories. This list is something pretty amazing. This is due to two things. The first is the level of diversity, and the second is that studios they came from relatively small studios.
Where are We Going?
I view this all with some optimism. As major studios find that milking and rebooting franchises ad nauseum, and more interesting games start gaining popularity, it will leave us with a more colorful gaming landscape. It could go the same way that the television industry has gone in. Until very recently, when a popular show had its finale, or a particularly good episode, nearly everybody saw it. This was in part because there was relatively little to watch. Today, the literally are not enough hours in the day to watch all of the best television. This appear to be becoming the case with gaming. The landscape will no longer be defined by a handful of colossi, but instead these titans will fall to make way, or at least shrink, in favor of smaller, more varied outliers.
I will start with a disclaimer stating that there is an issue with taking any set of individuals and subsequently putting them into a single category. This applies to almost any set of people. It even extends to how we choose to name and define objects. For example, I can have something which looks nothing like a car, and call it one, of have something which looks exactly like one, but is not one in any way. The former could be a wiener mobile, and the latter a paperweight. This is a philosophical discussion for another time. At the lower level, a single definition, and one which has been subject to great controversy, especially in recent years, is the term “Girl Gamer”, or “Female Gamer”. The image of a Girl Gamer which most typically comes to mind is that of somebody who plays almost exclusively casual games. This is discounting the offensive image of the girl who pretends to like games to impress guys, something which I doubt actually exists.
Not All Are Created Equal
Around, females make up approximately 45% of the total gaming population. While male gamers which are not that much more numerous are subdivided into many categories. Why should this be? Retro, HardCore, Fanboy, Indie, Casual, Console, PC, Mobile, Retro, Social, Closet, Gaymer, Cod Head, Completionist, Pro, N00b, Jock, are all categories used to define individual groups of male gamers. The list goes on. Why should a group not much smaller (and by some counts actually larger), not be subdivided into more categories? Female gamers do not fit into a single category. They do indeed tend to incline towards certain gaming habits, and away from others. For example, they tend to be older on average, which would automatically make them incline towards certain behaviors. This is not enough, however. We find any number of the previously listed categories trending towards certain age groups.
Gaming with Two X Chromosomes
What to do about the term, “Girl Gamer”, then? It clearly is not in any way sufficient to place around half of the gaming population. I propose two solutions. The first risks further deligitimizing our already imperfect definitions. The second does allow for a new way of thinking. One thing which could be done would be to add further definitions. This can be down by simply adding the word “girl” or “female” to any of our existing terms. The danger in this is further reinforcing any stereotypes (true or not) which we may have decided to formulate in our mind. The other thing which could be done would be to do away with the term altogether. Granted, some sections will remain skewed towards certain genders, but will not be defined by the gender of the people playing them. If more men play hardcore games or more women play social games, does it matter?
Often, when one enters a relationship, it causes one to reevaluate certain elements of one's life. Ideally, we would change for the better, but this is rarely the case. Quick look at the gaming habits of both myself and my girlfriend has provoked me to reconsider whether I can even call myself a game.
Gamer Vs. Gaming Enthusiast
In terms of time spent playing, and talking about videogames to friends, it is clear that she does much more of both. She spends far more hours playing videogames than I do. I like to pretend that I am busy and work all day, which blocks off the PC for other applications. This lady does not game on the PC as much, she uses her smartphone. And she is on it all day, and might even spend more money on those things. She even gets her friends and her mother involved while they compete to get to the highest level. I, in the mean time do not spend as much time playing games, but more time reading about them, and following them. She probably is not aware of the fact that Panda Pop takes its roots from Puyo Pop. The Banner Saga Vs. Candy Crush Saga fiasco is totally unknown to her. But, she does appear to be more of a gamer becausae she does more of what a gamer does which is to play video games. I imagine that several readers as well as myself are closer to games enthusiasts. What does make a gamer?
More HardCore = More Hours?
A hardcore gamer is most simply defined by a person who spends a significant share of their time and income on video games. This excludes a very large share of the gaming community. Perhaps there is a need for a new term. A gaming enthusiast not only play video games, butmakes educated choices about what he plays and how. He is much more of a hobbyist than his hardcore or girl gamer counterparts.
Polish 11-Bit Sutdio's This War of Mine came out last month to see almost immediate commercial success in spite of having little to go for it in terms of what is defined as key for major game studios. Inspired by the Siege of Sarajevo as opposed to this year's debacle in the Ukraine (probably Russia at the time of reading), This War of Mine shows a face of war rarely revealed by videogames. Looking at our most popular games such as CoD and Battlefield, the evils of war are hidden behind how fun and awesome blowing stuff up is fun. The critically acclaimed and gorgeous Spec Ops: The Line is one of few examples in video games of effective portayal of the amorality of war. The rocking soundtrack and fun gameplay do remove us and result in an issue which has plagues other titles such as Tomb Raider of Bioshock Ininite: Ludonarrative Dissonance.
This War of Mine does not try to be fun. It does not try to impress you. It simply shows you the reality of trying to survive in a wartorn city. This War of Mine is a bit like a depressing version of The Sims. You need to feed your characters, and ensure that they remain emotionally stable. How these work is great. One has to scavenge resources in order to survive. Sometimes this means having to steal supplies from NPCs, and if things get to it, someone may die. You play as humans, after all, and these curious creatures feel emotions. Theft can induce guilt, murder depression, and eventually the characters, without the right forms of emotional support or whatever rudimentary distractions he has been able to fashion, become some psychologically burdened by the reality around them that they can no longer go on.
In my view This War of Mine is a very important video game. This is due to the fact that it can show that a game can deal with serious topics in a sensitive manner. It further demonstrates the evils of war to us. Finally, it will hopefully lead to other studios taking greater risks.
"In war, whichever side may call itself the victor, there are no winners, but all are losers." - Neville Chamberlain
Crypt of the NecroDancer is an upcoming game which stood out for me almost instantly. It was not simply because it is smattered with gems of originality, but evoked many familiar feelings and emotions. This combination, along with Danny Bananowsky's electrifying compositions lead me to believe that this game is something truly unique. It's also bloody fun!
Let's start with the familiar. It certainly is not a coincidence that Cadence, our protagonist, looks very much our old friend Link, both with the tunic and blond locks. The ever-so-popular 32-bit retro visual style is gorgeous. The game itself is standard dungeon crawling romp involving killing beasts until you find the boss to go to the next level. New items and upgrades are unlocked by collecting gems, and buying them in the lobby. This is not where the magic is hidden at all, of course.
Then there's the original, and boy is it original. Let's start with the genre. It's a dungeon crawling roguelike rhythm game. I cannot think of another such game. The joyful simplicity in the controls to navigate the map and kill enemies, is a true testament to how one does not need complexe controls to make a good game. Danny Baranowsky's soundtrack is fantastic. Small touches such as the merchant who sings along and the fact that skelletons shake it before moving will bring a smile to many people's faces. Although I died frequently, I kept going back simply to know find out what new surprises were around the corner.
I personally cannot wait for the full release of this game. Rare it is that a game leaves me with such an impact. There's an Alpha build somewhere. Go look for it!