Some months ago, I put to paper one of the silliest, most moronic things I have ever written. A Fistful of Consoles: The End of the Console War was a short piece of writing in which I personally ended the seventh console war by comparing each individual piece of hardware to a flavour of ice-cream; highlighting both the flaws and qualities of the Wii, Xbox 360 and PS3.
Barriers were demolished, friendships were re-kindled, and the balance and calm of society had been restored. One of the greatest and bloodiest wars of our time had been ended by the simple words of a lowly blogger. But now, with the re-emergence of three once-great global super-powers, a new war is brewing, and in an attempt to douse the flames of conflict before they are re-kindled for good, I must once again take to my keyboard to save the videogame industry.
You may be thinking: “The ice cream analogy is old news. No way is comparing the snobbery of PS3-era Sony to a lemon sorbet going to save us this time.” And right you are. I’m not one to rest on my laurels, so without further filler for extra paragraphs: the eight generation consoles are exactly like pro-wrestlers.
The Xbox One is John “Bradshaw” Layfield
Now before you say: “Hey, wait! I like JBL!” there’s something important we must consider. Nobody likes JBL; we all just love to hate him. JBL is the epitome of what a “heel” should be: simple, obnoxious and always looking out for himself above others. With a corporate-boner the size of Texas itself, JBL is more concerned with the needs of the finely-suited-fat-cats than those of the common man.
Despite the occasional face-turn, JBL is still routed in everyone’s minds as the stereotypical slimy, money-grabbing, arrogant sell out of the business. With a huge fetish for money and a reputation for backstage nastiness, JBL would rather step on his competition and his fans in the most brazen, unceremonious way than act like a decent human being. You could probably even put a dollar sign in his name too (J$L), and you should definitely all do that and it would be really funny and satirical.
The PS4 is The Rock
Despite many a heel turn in which he acted snooty, arrogant and self-important, The Rock still retains his identity as “The People’s Champion”; a man who stands up for the rights of the common man in the face of adversity. The Rock doesn’t care about pleasing the fat cats, he just wants to make sure the audience is having a great time… and if he makes a few hundred million dollars in the process then that’s just fine!
Although for a while he can seem somewhat absent, he always returns with a bang, and to glorious fanfare from the crowd (as well as jealous, worried glares from the competition). You could even go as far to say that some wrestlers have tried to ape The Rock’s polici-um… wrestling style, in an attempt to gain some of his fans for themselves. When all’s said and done, The Rock isn’t always looking out for us, but his heart is in the right place and he’s pretty damn cool.
He may not be perfect, but by God when you smell what The Rock is cooking, you can’t help but feel electrified (PlayStation 4 electrocution problems not yet confirmed).
The Wii U is Eugene
Hey remember Eugene? No? Really?
I guess it’s because he hasn’t really done anything worthy of mainstream recognition in a while, but poor old (Wii) Eugene seems to have been forgotten by most people. He’s silly, playful and hard to take too seriously, but it’s quite possible people just don’t really get him for the most part. In a lot of ways, the overbearing gimmick that got him noticed in the first place may eventually be his downfall. A lot of the time he just seems to stumble about the place; clueless yet charming.
Despite all this though, everybody still likes Eugene, and he still has a decent amount of supporters and fans who are dedicated enough to cheer loudly for him. He may not be the first thing on everybody’s minds, but he’s certainly not out of the game yet.
So there you have it; I have once again used irrefutable facts and evidence to save the games industry from tearing itself open from within. However, if my words fail to reach enough people, know this: the eight console war will begin, and it will not stop consuming our lives until we are all lifeless, broken husks wearing Nintendo/movie franchise mash-up t-shirts we bought from Redbubble.
The console war is not a source of levity, and I am definitely not making fun of it in the slightest. Just like pro wrestling, console wars are real, and console wars hurt.
This statement has become something of a motto in some circles, particularly circles of people who follow the games industry and games media extensively, and those who enjoy analysing and observing the ever-shifting trends the market has to offer. The general “consensus” seems to be: zombies are an overplayed tool used either as a means for the player to kill endless waves of humanoid bodies without it damaging their moral compass, or as a cheap narrative device used to force a group of characters into situations wherein their most extreme emotions and actions become the norm.
I happen to think both of these theories are true to a certain degree, and there are countless examples of games in which these tactics are used (although not always in a negative way). However, zombie games still, and probably always will, have a place in the games industry.
In 2012, Telltale’s The Walking Dead was one of the most critically acclaimed games of the year; praised not only for its brilliant dialogue, acting and storytelling, but for the apparent revival of an entire genre of games. Currently, in the summer of 2013, The Last of Us is garnering near-universal critical acclaim and sending industry pundit’s heads spinning. Two titles about humanoid flesh eating monsters have become the go-to games in the “games are art” argument.
What I find really interesting about this whole thing is: I keep swearing myself off zombie games. I keep telling myself they are tired, overdone and lacking in any kind of creative drive or passion. Then I’ll go buy The Walking Dead, Dead Island and State of Decay because: (in my own words) “It’s like a zombie game, but different!”
There must be a reason for why, as consumers of videogames, we keep returning to these walking corpses with open arms and sharpened axes. Not only are zombie games often critically acclaimed (or at least lauded for ambitious takes on a stale franchise – more on that later), but they also sell like hotcakes. In fact, I’d bet good money that you could stick the word “Dead” into just about any crappy film, game, comic or TV show at this point and it would still reach a huge amount of people across the world. There’s something universal about zombies and their impact on the player. They offer a glimpse into the darker side of human nature; the all-consuming, wasteful and greedy side of us that just keeps hungering for more, until nothing is left. Zombies are by nature, an all-purpose tool to be used by a developer to serve multiple functions.
In the past week, I have witnessed two relatively similar; yet ultimately different takes on how to use zombies as a “tool” within videogames. Just before E3 began, I finished playing State of Decay, the new open world zombie survival simulator from Undead Labs. I came away from the game feeling like zombies as a concept had been refreshed and reinvigorated in my mind. The game is choppy, buggy and ugly as all hell, but the ways in which it engages the player are unique and engrossing in a really special way. “This is it!” I told myself, “This is the zombie game I always told my friends somebody should make!”
At Microsoft’s E3 briefing, they showed of Dead Rising 3, the latest chapter in Capcom’s over the top hack-n-slash blood fest. Dead Rising 3 and State of Decay evoked near polar opposite responses from me.
State of Decay uses zombies as a constant source of danger, to the point where they go beyond just being frightening. At various points in the game, the zombies were becoming so detrimental to the completion of my ever-growing list of missions, I actually thought to myself: “These zombies are really annoying”. Yes, these cannibalistic, mutated humans are something of a bother aren’t they? In fact, the game uses a growing list of objectives in conjunction with bickering and arguments in your home base, and an increase in the strength and numbers of the zombies plaguing the town to give you a real sense of oppression and impending doom. Throughout my time with the game, I felt worried, apprehensive, scared for my allies, and like I was being overworked in order to survive. This wasn’t evident by some arbitrary stat decrease on the screen, or in my character’s stamina bar; I actually felt overworked by the game, and I loved it.
Where State of Decay offers a refreshing new “survival-sim” take on zombie games, with its extra emphasis on base building, recruitment, resource management, and supply raids, Dead Rising 3 looks to be the most vapid, soulless excuse for a zombie game I’ve seen in a while, to the point where it has forgotten why anybody liked Dead Rising in the first place.
Now, of course I haven’t played Dead Rising 3, and a certain amount of Microsoft’s briefing should be taken with an aircraft carrier of salt, but the portion of gameplay they showed off could only be describe as lukewarm at best. I’m not really a big fan of the DR series, but I understood their appeal and had respect for the over the top, silly nature of the games. In the first two installments of the series, zombies were used as simple objects to be killed; nothing new there. But where the game stood out was in exactly how the player got to kill those flesh eating demons. The sheer flamboyance and variety of weapons and costumes at the player’s disposal was admirable, and the idea of putting a player inside a shopping mall full of all consuming, brainless creatures (ooh social commentary) was always going to raise a smile from the audience.
With DR3 though, we were presented with a brown, tepid slab of gameplay, wherein hot pants and guitars seem to have been replaced with guns, fire and a “turdwash” lens filter. The reason people play Dead Rising is so that they can kill zombies in a silly, colourful environment whilst gleefully looking like the biggest prick in the world. It only takes a modicum of common sense to realise that making a DR game that isn’t about those things is a giant, hulking misstep of a move.
For the entire time I was watching the Dead Rising 3 reveal, I kept thinking: “Wow. This just looks like State of Decay with much more polish, and much less in the way of interesting gameplay or charm.” It won’t appeal to DR fans that enjoy whimsical, nonsensical hacking and slashing. It’s unlikely it will appeal to those who enjoyed the community focused base building parts of State of Decay, and it won’t appeal to the fans of gritty shooters Capcom so shamelessly wants to impress. So who is actually going to be playing this game at launch?
While State of Decay used zombies as a means of creating a sense of depression, frustration and worry within the player, Dead Rising 3 just made me feel depressed, frustrated and worried at the state of the videogame industry.
Zombies are not inherently good or bad. They are not overused; nor are they still the “coolest thing in pop culture”. Zombies are merely a tool, and like every tool, it’s all about how you use them.
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.