I'm a 30 year old living in New York CIty with a lovely girl and two snuggly cats.
I'm a smitten Final Fantasy fangirl (I know, I know...), a sucker for anything Elder Scrolls, adore Kingdom Hearts (still patiently waiting for a third installment *grumble*grumble*) and go through phases of MMO fever (GW2, LotRO, The Secret World). Various adventure games and indie pixel art gems round out my gamer profile.
When I'm not playing games on my PC or PS3, I'm either attempting to string words together or wandering around the Big Apple taking photographs of all the amazing sights, sounds and people.
And at the end of day, I hang up my keyblade, stack up my spellbooks and toss my D'ni to English dictionary into my knapsack, so I can spend a few minutes back in the real world with my little happy family.
Itís gorgeous. It oozes, drips and flows with aesthetic beauty and conjures a dreamy scifi-cyberpunk-steampunk style. The melancholy song and driving beat that plays over the lush visuals whisks your imagination and emotions to another world - before depositing you back to the real with the leering number: 2014. 2014?!?! *sigh* I suppose good things really do come to those who wait.
Supergiant Games released a tantalizing teaser for their newest game yesterday. And while we donít know too much about Transistor beyond the delicious trailer, it certainly appears to be a brilliant follow-up to their freshman effort, Bastion.
But something else elbowed its way to the front of my mind as I replayed the trailer nearly a dozen times. Something made me smile...
The protagonist is a GIRL!!
Now wait just a second before you start rolling your eyes at the expectation of an oncoming feminist rant. Trust me, I LOVED The Kid. Iím just really happy to see a girl with a giant sword starring in Supergiantís new game - as if Supergiantís beautiful work on Bastion didn't garner enough admiration from me!
Naturally my first instinct was to throw my credit card at the screen. When that didn't work (I tried a few dozen times but it kept bouncing off) I decided to write something just to get the *SQUEEEE* off my chest. Writing helps me control the *SQUEEE*.
When Bastion was released, I threw the full weight of my mouse cursor at the ďBuyĒ button on Steam and promptly dove into Supergiant's painterly world. After only playing it for about an hour, I wrote a long email to Supergiant that gushed praise and, to my surprise, I received a kind reply from their writer, Greg Kasavin; which of course made my face do the happy dance.
But I didn't write them for a reply back. It was one of those purely giving moments we experience when something humbles us. I wrote them because Bastion had humbled me.
Bastion was just that singular experience that made me so happy that I had to tell the creators just how happy. I wanted them to know how much Bastion's magic had moved me, and I wanted them to realize that the creative risks they had decided to take turned into an absolutely wonderful game experience. Between Jen Zeeís eye-popping art, Gregís tight story-writing, Darren Korbís immersive and haunting music (not to mention Ashley Barrettís dreamy vocals), that silky baritone voiceover from Logan Cunningham and all that hidden magic of the programming team; Bastion made me remember why I was a gamer.
As I sit here and pine for Transistor on my pile of forget-me-nots, the knowledge that one of my favorite new developers has taken both a risk and a creative leap to build upon their unique and stunning aesthetic and boldly put a GIRL at the reins of their next story, makes me smile - makes my little gamer heart glow with happy feelings as Supergiant proudly displays that some devs really do know that girls can kick just as much ass as the next guy.
Bastion made me a follower and fan, Supergiant. Transistor just might make me a true believer.
In order for my dear readers to understand why this gives me the favorite-skinny-jeans-just-out-of-the-dryer warm and fuzzies, I'll need to change my sweater and put on my house shoes.
<Wayne's World Flashback Sound>
It really started years ago - well before The Longest Journey was even in production and maybe even an idea. It was two brothers in Washington State and a game that would hold the title of highest selling CD-ROM game for nearly a decade and nearly single-handedly ushered in the age of the CD-ROM.
Until that point in my life (I was 11) I had grown up in a household that basically considered games to be a distraction and an overall waste of time. I suppose this was understandable; my parents having come from a very different generation (i.e. the Jurassic Period), and had therefore seemingly missed out on the video games bubble of the late seventies and early eighties - leaving us to fend for ourselves when it came to both discovering games and finding a way to play them.
Sadly, before that fateful year of 1993, I had never experienced the thrill of playing all those great games from the NES, SuperNES, Sega Genesis and Sega Saturn iterations. Our family didn't even own a Windows PC - we had one of those beige boxes with a little Apple logo. Yep. My dad has been an Apple fanboy since Jobs teamed up with Ridley Scott and told us that PCs were enslaving our race. Naturally, I'd spend my later years catching up on all the goodness I'd missed, but as of that moment...
I was a gaming virgin.
Oddly, it was one of my dadís MacWarehouse catalogs that changed all that. After pushing past the usual pages of fancy looking Macs and super-fast iomega Zip drives, Iíd arrive at the software section. I loved the software section; probably because I was a huge dork. It was filled with sexy products like Ray-Dream Studio, Infini-D 3D and Stratavision 3D.
The thing I loved the most was pouring over the product screenshots and example renders. My imagination would go wild upon seeing the amazing worlds that could be created with these tools. "If only I had the money, computer and know-how to make the worlds I saw in my head! Oh the awesome I could create!"
And thatís sort how I discovered Myst.
There was this little screenshot attached to the product description for Stratavision 3D. It was quite the intriguing shot of a small reflecting pool containing a floating model ship. Beyond lay a classical styled building and rows of trees framed the view. Under the screenshot, it mentioned the game Myst. I had to know more! Could someone have done what I wanted to do?! Could they have created a game with one of these amazing 3D render programs and built a world? Of course they had. Flipping a few pages further to the games section, I found it. Myst.
My body was ready.
Needless to say, Myst was the only thing on my Christmas wish-list that year. Nothing else mattered. I had to have Myst. I needed this surreal journey. I wanted it to become my world.
Iíd like to think this is how a lot of gamers started. At some point, we found a game - either by stumbling on it at a friendís house or seeing it at an arcade or finding screenshots in a MacWarehouse catalog. Either way, it happened. That spark happened. Pretty soon, thatís all we could think about until we were in it. And thatís exactly how it started for me.
Myst was my life for a good three months while my brother and I marveled at the HyperCard-and-Stratavision 3D (OMG remember HyperCard?!?!) crafted world(s). The journal included in the box was soon full of our pre-adolescent cursive scrawl as weíd write down every Díni number, discovered pattern and boiler-plate print we came across. There were pages of connect-the-dots as we figured out the constellations and rows of copied button alignments for intricate engine puzzles.
Tell me a story...
Years later, the things that mattered to me back then, still matter to this day. While I certainly went through phases of discovering shooters, platformers, RPG and RTS games; I was ultimately moved by games that showed the importance of story, immersion and character development. The Longest Journey and its sequel, Dreamfall, displayed these strengths. Storied franchises like Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, Persona, the Tales series, The Elder Scrolls and more recent franchises like Uncharted and The Witcher, have all left their marks on me, and I'll never forget the wonderful myriad of characters with whom I spent time with along the way.
It's simple really. If a game can deliver a compelling story with memorable characters and inject a layer of cognitive engagement wrapped in beautiful art, Iím a happy player.
Dreamfall Chapters is still nearly 2 years from estimated release and I can't help but be full of happy fangirl bubbles. The Longest Journey franchise has proven that a studio can create a gender balanced story without relegating women to sexualized supporting characters, provide strong moral and societal plot devices within an intriguing fantasy/scifi story and tie it all together with a beautiful art style and delightful puzzles. And while other mechanics might have been hit or miss *cough* combat *cough*, when it came to the actual gameplay, the writing, plotting and graphics were beautiful.
So, as long as there are bold and creative studios out there that continue to keep the flame of great adventure gaming alive, Iíll continue to be that happy player. Thanks to the many sequels of Myst, Dreamfall/Dreamfall Chapters and a handful of other adventure gems like Syberia 1&2 (also with a third in the works) and the wonderful LucasArts games of yesteryear and the Telltale and Double Fine games of today, I have enjoyed a gaming life full of characters and worlds that are forever wedged into the folds of my imagination.
If you looked carefully last night, I'm pretty sure you could have see a hidden banner behind the stage that read: G.R.O.S.S.*
It's definitely not the first entry I had planned for this new blog, but it's something that caught in my head last night, and I haven't been able to shake it. Yes, it has much to do with that interesting Sony PS4 media event where they gave us a very carefully executed peek behind the curtain without showing too much (or anything at all when it came to the actual device itself). But that's a discussion for another time.
After I mentally dealt with the fact that I may or may not have been duped into watching a two-hour Playstation commercial - complete with techno rock, 10-edits-per-second videos and slow motion explosions (all of which started to give me flashbacks to last year's uncomfortable E3 show) I experienced a sad realization.
Apparently, Sony couldn't find one woman to be a part of this spectacle.
Here's the thing.
Our beloved industry has a severe image problem when it comes to incorporating women in the various fields that produce our little drug. What Sony had on their hands with this sort of media-intensive event, was an immense opportunity - as did ever participating developer for that matter - to show that they were not only sensitive and receptive to this issue, but were actively doing something about it. And honestly, when you've created a mega-hyped event to announce the new iteration of your flagship entertainment hardware - complete with a redefined brand image, platform and ecosystem - why would you inadvertently or otherwise make it seem like what you were announcing was a boys-only experience.
Sadly, the stream of mostly white male developers and industry executives showed exactly that. Here was the new Playstation ecosystem fully connecting gamers to Play in more ways than ever before and yet it disturbingly showed a clear bias towards the male preference.
Just think about what sort of message could have been sent out to Playstation nation (and gamer nation) if just one female developer got on stage to introduce a game or was featured in the highlight reel of soundbites on the massive video screen.
Think of what sort of message Sony could have sent to every girl out there who wants to feel more comfortable about being a gamer in this male dominated hobby and more importantly, the message sent to girls who want to grow up and actually make games. It's an opportunity squandered. Maybe Sony will attempt to be more modern at E3. (And maybe we'll actually see the PS4 as well!)
As sad as this was when I realized the missing female factor, it was compounded by disgust as I foolishly found myself on Kotaku commenting about this very topic. I knew what I was doing, and expected nasty responses, but it was worse. Happily I saw a new article pop up minutes after laying out my comments that dealt with this very subject; bravely written and posted by Patricia Hernandez. Unhappily, I saw it immediately set upon by Kotaku's rabid male audience and watched her and other female and male feminist allies get eaten alive - not that I expected anything less, sadly.
In the end, it's something to think about. It's probably not a good enough reason to boycott Sony or its Playstation brand, but it is something we can bring up in our consumer interactions. With the ease of connecting to these companies via Twitter, Facebook and forums, it's not hard to make ourselves heard and keep these organizations from hitting these iceburgs of outdated perspectives.
Whether or not all of the men featured during this press conference Ė both on stage or on screen Ė were really there because they were simply the heads of their respective studios or divisions, is ultimately no excuse for missing this chance to set both an example and a precedent by bringing real working women developers and execs into the public eye for all of us to see and hear. To have watched a woman developer enthusiastically introduce a game and watch her eyes fill with pride as the trailer rolls would be an inspiration for us all Ė not just to girls and boys everywhere, but to us, the gamers.