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E3 WEEK: Sony Twists The Knife

June 14, 2013 Leave a comment

Here is the second of my special E3-related blogs, this time focusing on the second major conference of the 10th, the one led by Sony around the PlayStation 4.

Sony presented a strong conference on Monday. They were confident, and they had a reasonable selection of games to show off. Again, much like Microsoft, not much that was particularly earth-shattering, but at least there was a little more variety on show.

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E3 WEEK: Microsoft Tells A Bad Joke

June 12, 2013 2 comments

In the first of my E3 special blogs focusing on the big three conferences, I’ll be taking a look at Microsoft. This one’s going to be a serious one because of the topic that will dominate much of it, but first, let’s take a general look at what was announced.

Overall, while Microsoft did well to steer away from the TV SPORTS TV mantra that blighted the Xbox One’s reveal, not many of the revealed games proved to be particularly interesting. A lot of typical moody-men-with-big-guns games got announced, from a bizarre Halo 5 trailer to Battlefield 4 looking like, well, a Battlefield game (well, once they’d gotten their technical difficulties sorted out) to a BRAND NEW IP…which just looked like Call Of Duty in space and therefore wasn’t particularly interesting.

It was also sad to see Dead Rising 3 looking very brown and uninteresting, particularly as the previous instalments seemed to have a great sense of humour that was noticeably absent in the reveal trailer for this sequel. Ryse seemed like Microsoft trying to create a rival franchise to Sony’s God Of War, shifting the setting from Greece to Rome but keeping the angry protagonist and QTE-based battle system, and the entire trailer came across as pretty hollow and bland.

In fact, the only games that looked vaguely interesting were a new game from former Sony partners Insomniac Games (known for creating Ratchet & Clank) and a new Swery65 game. Sunset Overdrive seems to retain Ratchet’s sense of humour, seemingly pitting hipster kids against a bunch of alien monsters and using vinyl records and energy drinks as weapons, while D4 looks as quirky as Deadly Premonition, not that we saw much of it. Sadly, both games failed to fully impress because of how little gameplay footage was shown.

Microsoft’s conference would largely have passed as being painfully average, were it not for what was possibly the worst moment of all of June 10’s conferences: the gameplay demonstration of Killer Instinct.

Everything in that gameplay demo was horrendous. They pitted the producer of the game against one of MS’s female community managers in a painfully awkward battle. I normally wouldn’t mention a presenter’s gender, but in this case it’s necessary because, well, there was something slightly sexist about the whole thing.

You see, it was all staged for the female presenter to be soundly beaten by the producer in the game, essentially making her look terrible at games, which would be bad enough if it wasn’t for the creepy “just relax and let it happen, it’ll all be over soon” comment the producer threw in, accompanied by the community manager’s meek cries of “no, I don’t like this”. That’s right, the whole thing was scripted trash talk dressed up to sound almost like sexual assault. Yes, Microsoft essentially made a rape joke live on stage while the whole world was watching.

I felt uncomfortable watching that gameplay demo because of how noticeably uncomfortable the community manager was. She didn’t want to be there, because she knew how bad the script was making her look. And despite Microsoft’s protests to the contrary, the entire thing was blatantly scripted due to how stiff and wooden the “trash talk” was. It didn’t feel realistic in the slightest.

Bizarrely, people don’t seem to get that it was a problem, that people were making an issue out of nothing. It was an issue. This isn’t up for debate. Let me explain why.

The gaming industry is gaining increased criticism of its portrayal of women in video games and the treatment of women within the industry itself. I’ve touched on this in a previous post, but it can also be seen in issues raised by Crystal Dynamics community manager Meagan Marie and in the reaction to Anita Sarkeesian’s (admittedly controversial) Feminist Frequency series. The language and attitude shown on stage during that Killer Instinct demo, whether intentional or not, was not helpful.

Sure, it wasn’t an outright “lol rape” comment, but it certainly gave off that vibe. It’s the kind of language we expect to hear from abusers and to hear it in the midst of what is supposedly a professional gaming conference is shocking. Microsoft should know better.

Yes, we see comments like this in trash talk all the time in gaming, but maybe that’s symptomatic of a wider problem; that abusive phrases such as these are seen to be so commonplace in an arena meant to be about fun is a concern in itself. The word “rape” is thrown around a lot in online gaming, and words like “gay” are often used as an insult, often without any conscious thought. It’s so ingrained in the culture that it almost seems baffling to consider that phrases such as these do present a rather flippant attitude towards sexual abuse and even women in general, and that is absolutely never a good thing.

That’s likely what happened here, rather than Microsoft consciously saying “teehee let’s add a rape joke to be edgy”, but it still shouldn’t have been in there to begin with. A company the size of MS should have better quality control in their show scripts and should do everything they can to keep stuff like this out.

The industry is taking steps away from appealing exclusively to sad teenage boys living in their basements (no more ads like the Ocarina Of Time ad from the 90s, for a start), but every time something like this happens, we take a couple of steps back towards that stereotype again, and I can’t see why any reasonable gamer would want that to happen.

How do you feel about MS’s “rape joke”? Do you see it as an issue? If you don’t, why do you see it as OK? Curious to hear other people’s thoughts on this.

I’ll be back tomorrow with my thoughts on Sony’s conference. Expect it to be a lot less serious.

Metal Gear Solid V’s Bizarre Timeline

June 10, 2013 Leave a comment

It’s E3 week! So in honour of that, I’m foregoing my usual news column and instead I’m writing about video games on a different day! And then I’ll write about them again on their usual day! Hurray! Today we’re looking at Metal Gear.

Metal Gear Solid V is the latest in the long-running Metal Gear franchise, and it’s been causing an awful lot of bafflement in the gaming industry ever since its announcement. In fact, MGSV has been one surprising announcement after another, and it’s proving to be a real guessing game about what Kojima and co are going to be showing next. I must admit, I love how it’s all been coming out so far, so it seems like a great time to take a look back at how strange it’s all been up to this point.

In August last year, Konami announced Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes, which series producer Hideo Kojima was quick to point out wasn’t Metal Gear Solid 5. Instead, it was apparently a spin-off title in the vein of PSP title Peace Walker, following on from the story of that game and starring Big Boss, protagonist of Metal Gear Solid 3 and father to the series’ main protagonist, Solid Snake. This all seemed rather normal, and got people excited.

Then things got weird. In December, a previously unheard of Swedish developer called Moby Dick Studios announced their new game, The Phantom Pain. Nothing too odd there, but people began to slowly pick up that the studio’s head, Joakim Mogren, had a first name that could be easily rearranged into “Kojima”, and others began to notice odd indentations in the game’s title; indentations that could easily have “Metal Gear Solid V” slotted into them.

In March, Mogren appeared on GameTrailers TV, turning up with his face heavily bandaged and brandishing an iPad filled with screenshots. The interview abruptly ended when host Geoff Keighley asked about some of the screenshots featuring the logo of the current Metal Gear engine, the FOX Engine and Mogren refused to discuss anymore.

Didn’t help that at roughly the same time Mogren’s Twitter began to post lots of pictures of food and one picture of superhero underpants, both things that Kojima was known to have done on his own Twitter account. Moby Dick’s Twitter also went weird, spouting nonsensical phrases that were clearly quotes from the AI colonel in MGS2.

Finally, all this was cleared up when The Phantom Pain was revealed to be Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. More surprisingly, Ground Zeroes was announced to be a direct prequel to The Phantom Pain, although confusion still exists about them being separate games or merely two chapters of a single game.

But suspicions didn’t end there. At the end of the reveal trailer, a voice is heard, and many suspected it to be Big Boss. However, it wasn’t the same voice as series regular David Hayter, which prompted outrage and frustration from the Metal Gear fanbase. An announcement was made shortly afterwards, confirming that the new voice actor would be announced officially at a pre-E3 conference.

And now that video has been and gone, and the new voice of Big Boss is none other than Kiefer “Jack Bauer” Sutherland, a very surprising announcement apparently made as a suggestion to Kojima by Hollywood producer Avi Arad.

Naturally, many people refuse to accept this, and it is all very strange. A few things are notable about the announcement video:

  • Both Kojima and Sutherland come across as very laidback and not particularly serious.
  • They’re wearing the exact same clothes in both the interview portions and footage of the voice being recorded.
  • We never see Sutherland actually recording any lines, only a bizarre portion of the video where he bobs his head around, making Big Boss do the same.
  • Sutherland is apparently doing the motion capture for Big Boss’ facial expressions, with the facial model also being modelled around him…an odd thing to announce when the Ground Zeroes trailer strongly suggested that all the motion capture was done before the English-language voices were brought in.
  • In addition to that, Big Boss’ Japanese actor wasn’t changed at all

Suspicions also arise when you pay attention to David Hayter. On Twitter, he made several sarcastic digs at Konami for firing him, teased the possibility of him being the voice again prior to the reveal, and then comparing the game to New Coke.

For those who don’t know about New Coke, this was when the Coca-Cola company changed the recipe of their flagship drink, apparently to make it closer to Pepsi, and it flopped badly. The change wasn’t welcome and people openly expressed their dissatisfaction, until the original recipe had to be brought back. Hayter’s comparison is telling, because a similar situation is arising with Metal Gear. The much-loved current voice actor is being changed, people are openly expressing their dissatisfaction…so could David Hayter be brought back? Was this the plan all along? No one knows!

It’s also suspicious how flippant Kojima’s producer friend was towards Hayter, stating that “a friend of mine used to be Snake, and now he isn’t”. Seems a little unprofessional to dismiss the previous actor while announcing the new one, especially since Arad has much stronger ties to Hayter than he does Sutherland (Hayter worked with Arad on X-Men, while Arad has never worked with Sutherland before).

It’s all very suspicious, and many are suspecting that this is indeed all a ruse typical of the bizarre way the game’s been announced so far, with Hayter actually being involved and Sutherland’s role being something else entirely.

Me, I’m just enjoying the ride. If Sutherland is indeed the new Big Boss, then his role in 24 certainly gives it some weight, and it’ll be interesting to see how well he pulls it off. If it’s all an elaborate ruse, then Kojima is officially a mad genius, and I wish more game developers would be as off-the-wall as he tends to be.

Quick Update & A Question

June 7, 2013 4 comments

Hello, sorry for the lack of regular updates lately, I’ve been a little all over the place. But all is well and I aim to be building up a bit of a backlog of gaming and writing updates later today so things will improve over the coming weeks.

But while I’m doing that, I’ve gotten curious. I have about 28 followers on this blog (not much yet, but I’ll get there), and my question is, what makes you follow this blog? What particularly catches your interest? Anything you’d like to see more of? Anything you feel I can do to improve the blog in any way? Let me know!

Also, as a regular feature, every Friday post will feature links to the two SvTM reviews of the week. This week, nostalgia wins out with the childhood reminiscing of Stand By Me and George Lucas saying “man, it was great being a teenager” in American Graffiti. Next week, fictional wars and the death of a real princess!

Categories: Updates