For science, you monster
Like we said in Friday's Start/Select, this is my final week at GameSpot.
I've had two marvellous years here, working with some of the handsomest, cleverest, funniest, handsomest people in the business we call writing about video games on the internet.
I'll be doing more of that in my next job, but here's not the place to talk about it.
As I set to excavating my desk out from under two years' worth of notepads and promo discs*, I wanted to say thanks for having me, GameSpot.
Thanks for watching and reading and commenting. Thanks for listening to the podcast (I'll do a last one tomorrow). I love what I do, but I love it harder because of people like you.You're alright, you are.
*If anyone was looking for Depth Hunter: The Spearfishing Simulator, I had it
Do evocative video games demand photorealistic graphics? Christoph Hartmann, the 2K Games supremo, says true photorealism is required to depict "deep emotions".
Games are mired in military shooter territory without them, he says, because without photorealistic characters it's easier to make meatheaded Michael Bay romps than wistful Brokeback Mountain complexity (the latter, his example). Until we can do la douleur exquise on Marcus Fenix's zillion-polygon next-gen mug, we'll languish in these bro-tastic badlands.
I don't know. I am broadly in favour of fewer inhuman rictuses, but photorealistic computer graphics aren't a prerequisite for emotional authenticity. Speaking as someone who skipped the first 20 minutes of Pixar's Up on a second, in-flight viewing to keep from openly weeping on the passenger beside me.
Saying photorealism is essential overlooks a host of stylised visual approaches that can be just as effective--not to mention a whole bunch of sensitive, evocative games without really lifelike visuals.
I saw that Hitman: Absolution trailer under embargo a few weeks back and thought it was nasty. When I put it to the producer, feebly, that the slutty nun murder video is "a bit strong, isn't it?", he said: "It's a game trailer, it's designed to get attention."
And attention it got, to the point where depriving it of the oxygen of publicity is not workable. Depriving it of the oxygen of cash money, on the other hand, might be. Not buying a product that has objectionable marketing is one message marketeers will take to heart.
As to the content of the trailer itself, game journalists I admire have already laid out how it is objectionable. Others have written on the ugly backlash against criticism of the trailer, which is just as disturbing and much more significant. Here is one of each kind, if you would like to read them:
For a smart, thorough take on Sony's rumoured deal with a cloud gaming service, try this one from Digital Foundry.
In particular, there's something to the idea of Sony adding built-in video games to its TV sets by partnering with one of these cloud services given, as Digital Foundry also says, Gaikai is going to do just that with LG and its smart TVs.
Could Sony's deal include something like its PlayStation-branded 3D television? A PlayStation-branded TV set with integrated game streaming? Who can say?*
*Everyone, in five days, following the Sony E3 conference.
What is more unnerving and cautionary than the gun logo of would-be gamer mating service Date a Gamer?
Right, yes, this: its botched photoshop* (right) of a gamer's perfect frankenwoman as scientifically determined in a survey of an unspecified number of site members on which bits of which female character they would have sex with.
She's got Joanna Dark's hair, Faith's eyeballs, Lara's hotpants, and Tifa's bristols, because nothing says "hello we should date" than "here is which body part I would sever and graft onto which torso LADIES".
*As a skeezy PR gambit it has technically worked since I did say its name but I promise never again.
The petition didn't work, evidently. Neither did Microsoft listen to the community protesting in its chosen social media venues. It could be the decision had been made from the very beginning. At any rate, Inside Xbox and its UK audience deserved more--more than a mid-season dead halt, and more than an announcement by way of blog update published on another continent. Poor show, Xbox.
Do yourself and Xbox LIVE a favour. Go and tell Microsoft not to kill Inside Xbox in Europe. Go ahead, it'll only take a second. I'll wait right here.
Done? Good. If you're already au fait with the Inside Xbox situation, grand. If you're not and didn't read the text to which you've already put your signature, let me break it down for you:
1. The US version of Inside Xbox has been canned.
2. The European version might go the same way.
3. You've given me power of attorney.
Except not the last one. I'd only have used it to sign a petition to tell Microsoft not to kill Inside Xbox in Europe on your behalf so what, really, would be the point.
Inside Xbox US, as fronted by Major Nelson, has already gone quietly into that good night, scrapped by Microsoft in favour of third-party content. Now Europe's equivalent, as fronted by MrPointyHead and Farrantula, is on the same chopping block, and it'd be a crying goddamn shame if we lost that as well.
The channel's flagship shows, SentUAMessage and The Nexus, are smarter and funnier and more ambitious than platform-holder-funded video has any business being. If you've never caught them, maybe because the dashboard now buries them under menu tiles and squeezes them between ad tiles, go and watch some old episodes. (Watch some really old ones and you'll see me. That's where I cut my video presenter teeth, gnawing away on season three of SUAM.)
This is great community engagement and great entertainment and if you own an Xbox you should be in a spitting rage that Microsoft wants to TAKE FREE ENTERTAINMENT AWAY FROM YOU. Doesn't that sound like something you should be mad about? It is something I am mad about on your behalf. You're welcome.
PROBLEM: My dad said somebody at the cafeteria ordered too many potatoes so everybody has to do a Science project on potatoes now for Take Your Daughter to Work Day and lunch will be french fries. Mr Johnson said we could use as Many Potatoes as we liked for our project But I'm only going to use one. I asked my dad if I could do a different project because I already did a potato Battery project in class last year and he said no, Mr. Johnson would get mad.
[My PotatOS Science Kit arrived. Video to follow]
So we're holding publishers to account for hyperbolic taglines now? Great, good, okay. Literally the FIRST TWO games within wildly flailing grabbing distance of my desk* are Kingdoms of Amalur ("Continuously evolve your character class to your style with the revolutionary new Destiny system"), whose new Destiny system profoundly FAILED to effect a forcible overthrow OR 360-degree rotation of character customisation, and Operation Raccoon City ("All roads lead to hell"), in which only SOME roads led to a place of eternal suffering and OTHERS were just the street behind the police station to the indoor carpark.
*Mark I spilled your coffee
Assassin Creed III's creative designer Alex Hutchinson says a lady protagonist wasn't plausible in his game because the history of the American Revolution was a sausage party (a "history of men", if you prefer). He says because every scene is packed with bros in powdered wigs, players "would stop believing" in a female assassin, since she couldn't convincingly sneak around or blend with crowds.
That's as maybe*, but you wonder if it doesn't also dodge the more straightforward commercial rationale: more people still want to play as men than as women and/or gamemakers still believe this to be the case.
Though Hutchinson says "I think lots of people want [a female lead]", there's probably lots more happiest with a hero. For all the attention given to Mass Effect's lady Shepard, less than a fifth of players go FemShep, and Activision's focus testing steers it well clear of games with women in lead roles ("lose the chick", if you prefer).
Historical accuracy and physical believability are but two of the tactful explanations for the way things are (preventing upskirts is another). And though historical accuracy and physical believability don't regularly top a designer's list of priorities, they could each well be a genuine concern.
The biggest concern? I don't think so.
*If women were all but invisible to that bit of history, couldn't that be the basis of your social stealth. (No-one ever notices the maidservant, suspects she's garotted Banastre Tarleton, etc, etc.)
Two thousand jobs is a lot of jobs. Also, you'd expect plenty of those newly unemployed GAME staff to be young people, given these are places that sold video games--and that the retail sector traditionally hires a high proportion of youngsters anyway. It's a tough time to be out of work; sympathies and good luck.
Nice interview with Tim Schafer on the Kickstarter appeal ("It was like the end of It's a Wonderful Life"), Notch backing Psychonauts 2 ("Instead of joining a country club, he's doing the things he thought were cool"), and Happy Action Theater playtests ("we've seen kids just standing there crying in the lava section").
CCP's Hilmar Pétursson: "We don't all know how to pilot a spaceship, but we all know how to kill a vampire."
(On the relative accessibility of vampire slaying (World of Darkness) versus serious space business (EVE), via VG247.)
I was thinking about Starship Troopers AS USUAL* and it suddenly brought me in mind of Quantum Gate, which I played once in maybe 1995 and entirely forgot until just now. Says the box: An adventure game set on a distant planet, you are sent out to fight in a war with an alien race.....or are you? (You are not.)
It was a first-person interactive movie; mostly you watched live-action cutscenes in teeny tiny frames and very occasionally you shot stuff. The shooting happened in a blocky VR mode, supposedly an augmented reality overlay built into the envirosuit that kept you from being dissolved by the alien planet's atmosphere of acid vapour or whatever.
Though it and Starship Troopers share a few generic sci-fi plot points (space marines! shooting aliens!), what dredged up the memory was this same bleakly satirical vision of Earth's future military: brutal and sanitised, like Starship Troopers' jingoistic Federal Network ("Would you like to know more?").
Right near the end (spoiler), your spacesuit got ruptured in a shooting bit (spoiler), and then (spoiler):
And then (spoiler).
It was more interesting than excellent, but check the video anyway for its authentic first-person soldiering stream of consciousness. Transcript:THE HELL IS GOING ON WHAT IS THAT SOUND OH JESUS OH JESUS THERE'S A RAID OH MAN I DO NOT WANT TO GO DO THIS OH DAMNIT
*It was on TV
Digital copies of PlayStation Vita games will be 10% (ish) cheaper than copies on ye olde physical format. Meaning I can pay $45 instead of $50 for Uncharted by downloading it instead of buying it on one of those diddy cards in one of those diddy boxes.
Sony! NO DICE. You don't forge brave new all-digital worlds with sandwich-price discounts.
They don't want to price their physical format into oblivion, sure. Got to keep that physical media slot relevant. Already it's the hardware equivalent of a vestigial tail, maybe an appendix. This withered evolutionary artefact, one generation from total obsolescence.
And then there are the retailers to think about. Don't want to completely hamstring the physical stuff with digital discounts, enrage the retailers. Need those guys on board to sell the actual hardware. Hey, remember when those Dutch stores refused to sell the PSP Go because it took them out of the picture? (Hey, remember the PSP Go?)
So 10% is a sop to the consumers who understand they shouldn't pay as much for a non-physical thing.
But those same people also know it's a lot cheaper than that for Sony to flog them a download than a physical copy, with all the associated physical expense. And they know they can't trade in a non-physical thing for money off their next purchase. Four bucks off a boxless MLB 12? No dice.