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10:38 AM on 07.22.2012

Next-Gen: D.I.L.L.I.G.A.F?

It has been almost 10 years since the current generation (7th gen apparently) hit store shelves and tricked one by one into households across the world and over that time span gamers have seen their games evolve from a curious time waster into one of the most prominent entertainment industries since the founding of home cinema. All of which culminated in December 2011 when Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 reached the $1 billion doller mark in 16 days, 1 day faster then Avatar, which made it the fastest selling property in entertainment history. Say what you want about the game it's self, that is an impressive feat regardless.

Also, this current generation of consoles have boasted a variety of technological advancements, taken as commonplace today but may have been considered damn near futuristic 15 years ago: 3D gameplay, touch screens, online multiplayer, DLC, motion control, HD graphics, media services, online marketplaces. While some of these "technological advances" have been based on precursor systems, it has only been during this 7th generation where most of the inovation (or novelty) has been a commercial success. Also, not all of these advances have been overly "good" for the consumer: on disk DLC, DRM and digital pricing failures are just a selection of dubious practices which has caused controversy in the latter part of this generation. Going into those may have to be saved for another day.

With the 7th gen fast approaching the end of a decade it is to no ones surprise that hardware companies are starting to make moves and announcements, with considerable input from speculative journalists, as to the shape and function of the next next-gen consoles. There have been rumbling of anti-preowned systems, name changes, release dates, pricing, connectivity with peripheral devices. The list is endless, and frankly I dont really care.

The reason why I view the next-gen with contempt is because to me, the system is not important, the actual game is. A bad game is going to be bad even if it is on a brand new, sparkly, console. Point in question, the PSP. Now don't get me wrong, the PSP is a fantastic piece of kit and over its life span I would go as far as to say that it was a much more superior console then the PS2, DS or even the Wii in regards to the technology. But, it only had a handful of titles which did not appear to be spin off's / adaptations of already released PS2 / PS3 games which appeared to make the console pointless. Why would someone want to play a watered down version of Resistance durring the commute home from work only to play the "proper" version when they get in?

The other complication that may face the 8th gen is due to the current movement by developers to homogenise the genres in order to give them "broader appeal", the recent E3 trailers of both Dead Space 3 and Resident Evil 6 are a testament to this claim. While some may argue that it is premature to condem a game I have yet to play, the fact remains that while clones of Call of Duty do sell rather well, European game sales seem to have stagnated since 2008. One reason for this is that there are a load of gamers who will only make 2-3 purchases a year which are normally Fifa, CoD and a CoD clone, while forgoing most games that deviate from the soldier-shooting-soldier formula. Therein lies the risk of developers who attempt to give their games a broader appeal risk not catching the attention of their prospective new punters while alienating older fans of the series.

The other risk that the 8th gen has to worry about is competition from indie and small studio developers stealing the limelight on other devices. As of November 2011 angry birds had been downloaded over 500 million times and 19% of Minecraft's 35,257,814 registered users have purchased the game. While these games are spread over different systems, the advent of the OUYA and its promise to consolidate independent development onto a royalty free, open source, android console may mean a diversion of customers and third party developers away from draconian consoles in favour of something that allows a little more creative freedom and appreciates difference in personal taste. Because not all of us enjoy variations of shooting games.

While some may be first in line to champion the OUYA as being the harbinger of a "gaming golden age", those who are slightly more cynical may shudder at the rhetoric of "anyone can make a game and play it on the OUYA" as the saturation of poor performing games in the early 80's has been proposed to be one of the primary causes of the great video game crash, something that nearly destroyed the fledgling gaming industry. While the industry has moved on in 20 years, one may argue that online distribution and open source development is still in its infancy and could very well suffer immensely if there was a critical error in judgement at some point along the line.

In short, all I am asking is that developers make good games. Indie or AAA, It does not matter. Forget what the marketing analysis's say, studios should be looking to release several good games a year rather then relying on the impact of one great game.   read

5:14 AM on 07.18.2012

The Attempted Rape of Lara Croft

Since the Crystal Dynamics Tomb Raider reboot was showcased at this year’s E3 a few weeks back, the non-gaming media have completely lambasted the game over one scene in which Lara fends off an attacker who appears to be attempting to rape her. From The Guardian to New Statesman, pundits have attacked the game and the infamous scene as “lazy shorthand for showing women as vulnerable”, “eager to reproduce and normalize a culture in which women are blamed for being raped” and as implying that “Women can’t just be born tough and cocksure – that has to be f*cked and beaten into them”. While there may be some legitimacy behind these views, almost every article written about the subject focuses on Lara Croft the woman and Lara Croft the character, while almost none have evaluated the effect that this may have on Lara Croft the cultural icon.

There is no denying that ever since her 1996 outing Lara has been a hyper-sexualised marketing device, whose breasts became the biggest thing in games since Samus Aran’s shocking reveal at the end of Metroid back in 1986. However, within the first three levels of the original game gamers knew they were dealing with a female character who was a cut above the traditional male characters, such as Duke Nukem (also a 1996 release), as she took down a monolithic T. rex with nothing but two pistols and a whole lot of jumping about. One other reason why Lara became such a popular figure within gaming was not because of her strength as a female lead, but her vulnerability as a human. In the original Tomb Raider there were over 20 different ways that Lara could die, none of which are more emotionally jarring than a mistimed jump or fall from a long distance. This was the first death that most gamers experienced within the franchise and it came complete with screaming as she hurtled towards her terminal fate and the sound of splintering bones as she smashed against the floor, which was followed by a lingering shot of her crumpled body.

Outside of the mechanics of gameplay, Lara’s story is one of human vulnerability beyond an individual’s control (the canon of Lara’s heritage may have changed over the years, so I am going to assume the bio on is correct). She survived a plane crash which took the life of her mother at the age of nine, she became attached to her father (and ultimately his apprentice) until he went missing, presumed dead, when Lara was 15, and she was cut off from her extended family when she inherited Croft manor which, subsequently, has been burnt down in an arson attack intended to end her life. Each of these tragic events has only demonstrated Lara’s strength of character as she continues to pursue adventure and lost treasure, but they happen off screen and many years before the original Tomb Raider, so the gamer is not invited to witness the immediate emotional damage but are presented with the result – the resolve of a hero.

One immediate problem with the 2013 reboot is that it is released in 2013, and so any assumptions made are pure conjecture until I actually get my hands on the game.

An aspect of Lara’s new design which allows me to believe that Crystal Dynamics are attempting to be sincere with the revision of the character is that, while this Lara appears slightly younger, she appears to be less sexualised than her previous incarnation. Her breasts appear to be in proportion with the rest of her frame. Her physique appears to mirror female MMA fighters, and so does her demeanor in some of the more bloodied and muddied images released.

It has been said that this tale is a journey for Lara, from being a survivor who shows genuine remorse for hunting a deer to a killer as she hunts down those who attempt to harm her and her friend after shipwrecked on a island with a band of mercenaries. It appears that each stage damages Lara’s mental and emotional state, demonstrating an evolution of her character which is a far cry from protecting Lara from the physical dangers present in earlier installments. The obvious comparison here is the Uncharted series, where Nathan Drake appears almost as chipper at the beginning of the game as he does at the end, despite surviving consistant attempts on his life. While Uncharted and Tomb Raider are comparatively similar games, there is one thing that Lara can experience that Nathan will most likely never contemplate: the fear of rape. This is a sentiment which rings true for the majority of males who will play the game; rape is something that we will never understand. The emotions, the physical act, the fear. It can only be experienced through the observation of media, such as the critically acclaimed film/novel The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. The one rape scene in Tomb Raider may, hopefully, be the closest some people get and it may be as emotionally disturbing for the player, male or female, as it is for the character.

While it may be used as a point for character development or even marketing, one cannot deny the truth behind the idea. Chances are that if a paramilitary group stumbled across a lone, vulnerable 21-year-old woman in a forest someone would attempt to rape her. This is something that we cannot bury our heads in the sand over. Rape is something that is reported on the news daily. The scene may be tantamount to the Trevor Morgan/Little Mo domestic violence story in Eastenders for promoting rape awareness among the gaming community, a community who would happily shout “you just got raped” down the mic for the most pedestrian of achievements online.

The attempted rape of Lara Croft will work to reaffirm the sexual connotations of the word while exploring the emotional damage it may inflict on an individual, and the fact that games are now willing to challenge something as taboo as rape demonstrates how much the medium has matured in recent times. Any problem that someone has with this game is either based on personal politics or the fact that Tomb Raider is a game and that games are believed to be fun for kids. The only real cause for concern is in the execution of the scene; will it be a cutscene or full of quick time events? We won’t know until the game is actually released.

I just hope I am not made to regret my words.   read

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