In the wake of the recent announcement that EA now owns the rights to develop and publish “core” Star Wars games, some predictable yet reasonable discussions have arisen around the internet pertaining to what these game might actually be. Of course, fans came out in droves to declare that DICE would be the “obvious” choice to develop Battlefront 3, and there are even some smaller groups entertaining the idea that Visceral Games might develop a game based on the ludicrous (yet highly entertaining) zombie-horror book Death Troopers.
As an avid Star Wars fan and games enthusiast, these reactions didn’t surprise me, and it was actually nice to see many fans becoming slightly hopeful about new Star Wars fiction, even if that hope was mixed with a pinch of salt and heap of apprehension. What did surprise me though, was the reaction many other enthusiasts like myself had towards the idea that BioWare might return to make a new Knight of the Old Republic game, or a different single player Star Wars RPG. Instead of the overwhelming sense of happiness and flashing neon signs that invade my brain when I hear the words KotOR, many gamers seemed annoyed or simply apathetic at the prospect of BioWare returning to the post-Baldur’s Gate series that successfully brought them to a more mainstream audience.
“After DA2, Mass Effect 3 and TOR, I’m not interested in any of BioWare’s games. They seem to have had their creative talent and ambition suppressed and choked by EA.”
This is a statement I put together to summarize the general consensus regarding this Kotor/BioWare speculation, had most of the comments been expressed in less “Internet-y” ways. This idea that BioWare has lost its touch has come up a lot recently, and it’s a theory that is certainly not without weight or merit. Dragon Age 2 was a bad case of dumbing down for the sake of dumbing down, and Mass Effect 3’s ending… will not be mentioned here since I wouldn’t dare open that house full of cupboards full of cans of worms. But in my youthful naiveté, I’m not without hope for BioWare, and still believe they are a force for good in this ever darkening world of interactive entertainment.
Interestingly, some of the biggest issues that seem to plague the industry these days regarding sexism, elitism and exclusion don’t seem to be much of an issue in BioWare games. For several years now, BioWare has been one of frighteningly few AAA developers whose games include fairly rounded and respectful depictions of men and women, often of different sexual preferences.
Now, before you throw a sharp object or large cat my way, I’m not talking in absolutes here. Yes, Dragon Age 2 was clumsy and heavy handed in its “everyone is bi-sexual” approach to sexuality, and there are issues with some of Mass Effect’s gay romances that I won’t go into here, but the fact that these complaints and discussions have arisen strikes me as a positive move forward. Whereas most developers stick to bland and often offensive depictions of men as “dude-bros”, and women as nothing more than a pair of breasts to be gawked at, BioWare tends to treat its characters as characters, regardless of gender, sexuality or species. Commander Shepard never makes homophobic jokes about his crew members (more like “Gay-rrus”! Amirite?!), an omission many other developers could learn from. For a game series that often injects undercurrents of racism and xenophobia to enhance its narrative, Mass Effect is actually pretty damn tolerant, and provokes healthy discussion regarding narrative and character quirks.
It’s 2013, and BioWare is still one of the only (if not the only) developers outside of Japan to incorporate gay characters within its narratives in a meaningful or distinctive way. Sure they may screw it up in some way (the “Gay planet” springs to mind), but at least they’re trying. It might seem like a flimsy argument to say that, but when nobody else will even attempt to include alternative perspectives or a broader range of characters within their works, the folks at BioWare at least deserve respect and admiration for attempting these things, even if they sometimes fail to meet the standards their audience sets.
Social issues aside, BioWare’s writers still know how to write a damned entertaining story set within an engaging world; something that I find rare in today’s market. Hell, even though I found The Old Republic boring on the gameplay side, the writing at least proved that BioWare still “gets” Star Wars and why it appeals to people in the first place, something that cannot be said about the messy, lore-bending, asinine nonsense that was The Force Unleashed.
Many will argue that if BioWare returned to KotOR it would not be with a “core” RPG experience, rather they would develop a more streamlined, simplified version of the series to appeal to more people(‘s wallets). This, alas, is something of an unfortunate truth surrounding BioWare’s existence these days, and something that does worry me somewhat. If BioWare oversimplified the Kotor combat experience it would certainly have a negative effect on my personal enjoyment of the series. But streamlining isn’t inherently a bad thing, and can often actually remove certain amounts of clutter from a game when done correctly (a la the streamlining of the Mass Effect inventory system). The removal of said clutter can also direct developer and audience attention towards more important aspects of the game too, and with everything BioWare learned from the Mass Effect series, they could take their famous dialogue system, combine it with an updated version of the original Kotor’s (or Dragon Age Origins’) combat mechanics, and then apply it to the Old Republic setting to create a Kotor experience that feels familiar and faithful, but streamlined enough to be viable in today’s AAA market.
I guess what I’m trying to say is: don’t count BioWare out. They may have made some glaring mistakes over the past 4 years, but they’re still one of the more daring, creative and downright talented developers in the industry. They still have a knack for creating engaging characters, worlds and stories, ones that always provoke interesting discussions and opinions from gamers, even if said characters/worlds/stories aren’t executed as well as they could be.
I’m still confident BioWare can pull something great out of the bag for the Star Wars license, whether it’s Knights of the Old Republic III or a completely new title. Regardless of whether you like or dislike their games, BioWare are an important force within today’s industry, and the games they create are among some of the most talked about titles of the past three console generations. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they should not be treated with apathy.
Hey there Destructoid, it's been a while since I've written anything because I've been sick (and busy with "important" work), but I thought I'd try something different today. Here is different:
Let me tell you the tale of a man most ordinary,
The contents of which, is decidedly varied,
He may have a dark past, a family divided,
We just announced the game though, so we haven’t decided.
We’ll start with his name; our man is called “Blank”,
(The publisher wanted it, we thought it was wank),
White, American, dashing and handsome,
I know what you’re thinking; “just like Ted Danson”.
His story is one of tragedy and woe,
But none of that mushy stuff, that had to go,
Who said emotion isn’t about explosions and guns,
Or the lingering close-ups on Blank’s camouflaged buns?
Most of the story will be exposition,
A dark past revealed (it’s just a tradition!)
But still you’ll be in for heroics and glory,
Although the game is just a shitty origin story.
It wouldn’t be a story without a female character too,
(Although it’s not as though the box art will be big enough for two)
She might even be playable, if that’s the way you play,
Just so long as she doesn’t kiss Blank; that would just be gay.
Silly me, I forgot to give our pair of breasts a name!
It’s as if you really wanted her in our macho, manly game,
“Cherry LeBoobs” will be her name, for simplicity’s sake,
(Her in game role is to pout her lips, and give her arse a shake).
Between you and me though, I’m starting to get scared,
In playtests with women, poorly, our game fared,
These women wanted a more “well rounded girl”,
So we made her breasts rounder, and re-named her Pearl.
Still the game’s biggest draw is definitely Blank,
Especially when he wisecracks a bit, before blowing up a tank,
His story might seem barebones; perhaps a wee bit vague,
We were really bad with dialogue (we avoid it like the plague).
With audience appeal this broad, we’re bound to sell well.
(Lest our publisher eats our genitals, down in gaming hell)
The Blank Slate: Origins, Game of the Year!
With an intensive DLC plan, never you fear.
A game for guys, a game for bros!
We haven’t seen enough of those!
This game’s so full of in your face machismo,
The girls will probably hate it but we think you’ll be pleased though.
[Warning: This article contains some minor spoilers for BioShock Infinite)
I’ve always been insecure about divulging my age on the internet, particularly within pieces of writing that I publish on the Internet. When I’m discussing the ins and outs of videogames across various outlets on the worldwide web, I often feel as though my opinions don’t matter because of my relative youth, and any inexperience that might come with it. The truth is, I think about videogames for most of the hours that I’m awake. When I’m not playing them, I’m writing about them. When I’m not writing about them, I’m daydreaming about them (much to the detriment of my social and academic lives). Videogames are my favourite art form.
I am of the opinion that games provide us with a form of entertainment like no other. A combination of music, cinematographic techniques, literary devices, art and gameplay, games combine every other artistic medium with their own to create experiences that feel like a digital banquet of art and creativity, experiences that feel a lot like film, literature, music etc, but with an added dose of uniqueness that sets them apart from the pack.
I went to watch Star Wars Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace for my fifth birthday (read into that as a reluctant admission of my age), and was blown away by the movie. It was my first step into the Star Wars universe, a universe that is now so important to my life that rarely a day goes by that I don’t think about it. Despite its glaring flaws, The Phantom Menace introduced me to Star Wars (and subsequently the better movies/expanded universe fiction contained within the franchise), and to huge fictional universes filled with interesting worlds and characters. Approximately 5 years later, I played Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, a game that revealed unto me two major realizations:
1. 1.Videogames could now do Star Wars better than films could.
2. 2.Videogames could excite, entertain and mesmerize me more than any other art form previously had.
You see, the main reason I love videogames is because of the universe’s in which they are set. I like to imagine that the game I am playing is just a series of self-contained events set within a grand universe; a universe with infinite stories to tell. Games allow us to experience (the word “experience” is probably starting to annoy you now, but please bear with me) these universes in a way that no other art form can. We are not restricted to a filmmaker’s camera or an author’s pen. If I, the player, wants to walk over to an NPC to see what it is they’re doing, a game allows me that luxury, at no expense to (and often to the betterment of) the game’s narrative.
Unfortunately, the past few years have not been kind on universes. With the exception of a few stand-out titles, very few games have presented me with universes that I want to be a part of; universes wherein the simple, passive act of being there is enough to entertain me. Whilst these games might entertain me thoroughly and provide me with significant hours of fun, they tend to lack the unique spark that was responsible for beginning my love affair with videogames.
Too often nowadays are players led through corridors and linear events, denied the ability to freely explore a universe and examine each individual, wonderful detail it provides. I had begun to wonder if the games industry had become so corrupted by the almighty dollar that they might never truly capture my imagination again. Then along came BioShock Infinite.
Every frame of BioShock Infinite is filled with minuscule details that don’t detract from the game’s narrative when gone unnoticed, but provide us with wonderful titbits of exposition, rhetorical questions and character/world development. The sheer attention to detail implemented by Levine and Co. only became evident to me after the game blew my mind for a second time. These details help to make Columbia, and by proxy, the rest of the BioShock universe(s) and entertaining world to be in.
Even during the more linear sections of the game, Infinite stands out as a game that employs other art forms to increase its entertainment value and narrative power, but in the end tells its story in a way that only a videogame can. Take, for example, the elevator sections throughout the game. Just by peering out of a window, the player can see so much of Columbia; so many fine details regarding architecture, fashion, characters, ideologies, technology. Purely by giving the player the ability to move Booker’s head around, these scenes give players a sense of agency within the game’s narrative that a film or book cannot even hope to achieve. When Booker peers out over the decadent cityscape of Columbia, it is as though I am seeing these things; I am preparing to leap from this elevator, hug the clouds and shout “I hate racism!” What would have turned up as a slow, descending/ascending tracking shot within a film becomes so much more powerful and dynamic within a videogame.
Let’s not forget, many of Infinite’s greatest moments are the times Booker spends wandering around on the beach or wading through punters at the fair. These moments of exploration, along with the game’s voxophones, kinetoscopes, and other such interactive devices (the Duke and Dimwit machines in particular were eye opening and unique) provided me with a sense of background detail and exposition that once, again cannot be portrayed in other mediums. I felt like I was being rewarded for exploring what was already an astonishingly beautiful-yet-tragic world.
Independently of Booker and Elizabeth’s quest, some of the game’s finest stories are told in such a way, often over the course of about ten seconds or so. Think about the voxophone that tells the story of a woman whose husband has been diagnosed with cancer, and must sell his body and become a “Handyman” in order to survive. As well as “Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt”, I think “better a Handyman…than a dead one” is one of the most tragic and memorable quotes that the game has to offer. All of these devices and scenes provide so much information and detail that simply existing within the game’s universe becomes a source of entertainment.
Playing BioShock Infinite brought me back to the days I spent as a child fantasizing with my friends about becoming a Jedi, slaying orcs and defeating super-villains. Ken Levine and co have not only created a living, breathing universe that encapsulates the true spirit of imagination and creativity that I’ve missed for so long, they have reminded me why I love videogames.
I love videogames because they allow me to escape into another world, a world that feels so familiar to our own, yet so different. A world so full of danger, wonder and excitement, that it takes all of my effort not to spend all of my time within it. Ken Levine has reminded me of these things, and in doing so, he has reduced me to my five year old self, gleefully experiencing Star Wars for the first time in a dusty Lincolnshire cinema.
On this week’s episode, we’re chatting about Empire: Total War, The Walking Dead - Survival Instinct (more hilarious Metacritic reviews), Injustice: Gods Among Us, and Darwin professes that I am the “James Franco of Geek Culture”.
Towards the end, Darwin tells the story of how the Ultimate Warrior will rip out Laurence’s intestines and bathe in them, so that’s pretty good too.
As bleak as the morning was, John Riccitiello (or Johnny C as his cool new friends had begun to address him affectionately) was in high spirits. Pulling on his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pyjamas, he bounded down the stairs, gleeful at the prospect of what his day might bring. He darted towards the refrigerator for a cold glass of milk, only to find a hand firmly denying his access to the cupboard of assorted chilled goods. It was his father.
Papa Riccitiello was a tall, stocky man with an overabundance of forehead, a forehead unsubtly covered by a wispy, black comb over. His piercing blue eyes, sheltered by thick furry eyebrows, conveyed a mixture of anger and disappointment.
“I just got a call from the Moores down the street, they said you’ve been hanging around with their son again Jonathan.”
Shit. He was busted for sure this time.
“Yeah Dad. I was just hangin’ out with Pete and Frank. It’s no biggie.”
It was a biggie. Johnny C, Franky “Gibbo” Gibeau, and Peter “Moar” Moore had been frequenting some of the less “family friendly” parts of town. There was a market for a particular “product” down in Oldtown, and “The Three Scrooges” knew exactly how to get it, and exactly how to sell it.
The truth was: John was living two lives. In one life he was Jonathan Riccitiello, the smart, hardworking son of a middle class American family. In the other life he was Johnny C, the tough talking, hard walking, drug dealing son-of-a-gun feared by so many of the town’s youths. The former life helped cover up his illegal activities, and allowed him to feign innocence if business went south, while the latter allowed him to make lucrative profits from young, impressionable kids.
“Gibeau?! I thought I told you not to hang around with that lout!”
“Jeez relax Dad! We were just playing some B-ball at the park. Cool it Papa.”
With his father suitably distracted by a newspaper story about knife crime, Johnny C scampered back up the stairs and prepared for school; a long, harsh day of calculus, chemistry and Chaucer. It was okay; he thought to himself, after I’m done with chemistry at 3 o’clock, the real chemistry can begin.
After any thoughts of test tubes or the periodic table had left his mind, Johnny C approached his friends as they loitered inconspicuously in a filthy back alley. He had some new business propositions to discuss.
“Hey Johnny”, Peter waved, fiddling with the buttons on his letterman jacket. “Does your dad know you’re here?”
“Yeah it’s cool; I told him I’d be staying after school to catch up with some revision.”
“You know Johnny”, Gibeau remarked, “When you say you’ll do one thing, then you do another, that’s a really good thing to do. It really makes people like you.”
Peter decided to steer the conversation towards its primary focus: “So guys, I get that business has been good recently; these kids are really digging the weed we’ve been selling. But I feel like we need to change the way we operate; really mix things up.”
“We need to stop doing what’s best for our buyers and start doing what’s best for us, the pushers,” added Frank.
The trio agreed in unison. A plan was about to be hatched; a plan so monumental it would make the Washington monument appear as minute and insignificant as a HB pencil.
“I was thinking,” Johnny began. “What if we take the product we’ve been selling normally at a fixed price, then take some of that product out of the bag and distribute it into smaller bags? We could charge a fixed price for less product than our customers were already buying, then charge extra for quick fixes further down the line. The customers would think they’re getting more for their money, but we’re actually robbing them blind!”
“You mean like micro transactions?”
“Yes Peter, micro transactions is exactly what I meant by that last sentence.”
“I like that idea,” said Gibeau, “Pissing off our consumers is definitely the best way to run a business.”
“We can do more though! I know how we used to be committed to providing people with the best product so they felt like their money was invested wisely, but what if we stopped that? What if we took our best weed, replaced it with inferior product, but kept the labels similar?” Johnny C was on fire, throwing out ideas as though they were old, stale biscuits. He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a film sandwich bag, filled to the brim with a flaky green substance.
“Take this product for example: “Grass Effect”. This weed sells well, so why not just replace it with a more common, boring type of weed, but still sell it as Grass Effect? Head Spaced, Dragon Sage, Need for Weed; all of our products can be homogenized into dull, clones of each other, at no expense to anyone bar the consumer!”
“Jesus fucking Christ Johnny, with business acumen like that, I’m surprised you aren’t working for a large corporation like PepsiCo or Haagen-Dazs!” Moore and Gibeau were aghast, their simple minds blown by such an impressive plan.
Before the trio could celebrate their seemingly inevitable victory and subsequent financial gain, a problem reared its ugly head. That problem was Gabe Newell.
Gabe “New Kid” Newell was relatively new to the dealing business, but he’d made quite a name for himself as a pro-consumer drug dealer; a people’s-pusher. Despite his unassuming and non-threatening nature, as well as his unpopularity in school (Johnny and his friends had begun calling him “Gay Newell”, which was always met with raucous laughter), Gabe was beginning to control the Oldtown weed trade. Offering great weed at affordable prices, Newell was putting the consumer first, and profiting as a result. Some buyers even claimed they had “libraries full of Gabe’s weed that they were never even going to use”; they just bought it “because it was so cheap”.
A silent rage boiled within Johnny C; his friends had to physically hold him back as Gabe crossed the street just 30 short feet away.
“Easy Johnny, we can’t fight him with muscle; it’s too risky. We need to fight him with our superior business minds. With you on our side, there’s no way we can lose.”
Johnny smirked. He’d momentarily begun to doubt his prowess as a businessman and a dealer, but doubt was for losers. Winners dealt with problems by lunging at them head on, giving no pause for rational thought or constructive criticism. Johnny C was a winner.
With these new business plans in place, there was no way he could fail. He had the market in the palm of his hands, and to throw it away now would be a very, very stupid thing to do.