Well, That Was Interesting 6/15/2014

Infamous_second_son_First_Light_Fetch_e3_trailer_2014_01

The gaming world survived another bombardment year of information and hype that is E3 week, and predictably  it couldn’t live up to last year’s console “mic dropping” moments that may never happen again. While many others are still debating the winners (No Man’s Sky anyone?) and losers of the week, we here are left to look back and sift through the rubble that is no doubt the LA Convention center. With so much of the week devoted to E3 we will avoid recapping the show, lets get to the big four..

By now you surely have heard the news about Ubisoft’s choice omission of playable female characters from Assassins Creed: Unity from co-op mode as it would cost too much money and time to implement. Others also took note of the therapy session trailer for the Rise of the Tomb Raider. Leigh Alexander of Gamasutra discusses the overused trope of the troubled but hardened female character that must have had something traumatic happen to her in the past. Lara Croft is seen discussing this with a therapist who is pleading with her to open up to him about the events surrounding the first game. It is a very interesting read as Leigh points out men in the same position are never troubled or in need of therapy, they are just hardened heroes.

The importance of music has grown within games with some of the best musical scores around coming out of smaller titles from the indie game world. Soundtracks have become so well received and revolutionary that they can easily go on to define a game or form a part of the whole package that would otherwise be incomplete. Nowhere is this truer than Hotline Miami and FTL: Faster Than Light’s critically acclaimed soundtracks which have both gone on to define both games. Would they be the same with different music? We’ll probably never know the answer to that question. The developers of both games hand picked the artist to develop their soundtracks and got exactly what they wanted out of the music. Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s David Valjalo interviews the developers behind both Hotline Miami and FTL to uncover the process behind process of developing these memorable soundtracks.

As we mentioned before, last year’s E3 was mic dropping but this only the case for Sony with Microsoft fumbling their microphones. This year’s E3 was a big year for Microsoft to define the  Xbox One and they will be unfairly overly scrutinized for their press conference. The internet smells blood in the water and every year there is a winner and loser mentality surrounding E3. It is important to note that while E3 has much clout with buyers over which console they will ultimately purchase, it will not make or break the systems. What it really comes down to is games and Microsoft came with the games, one after another in a rhythmic beat of the drums to appease the E3 gods. Ryan Smith of A.V. Club has shares his interesting opinion on the directions taken by Microsoft for this year’s stage show, and we think it is one you should read.

The final piece in the Big Four brings us back to the topic of gender inclusiveness, or the lack there of at this and every year’s E3. Long has the show been criticized for its booth babes and hyper sensationalism when it comes to sex and violence, and the issue has been so prevalent during this year’s coverage it was hard to miss. During the show Danielle Riendeau of Polygon pointed out a disturbing fact, that there were more severed heads than female presenters on stage. In her piece she discusses how overly planned these press conferences are with everything and everyone on stage being there for a reason. The lack of female presenters was a conscious decision made by someone behind the screens to fit an outdated outlook on the demographics of gaming. Times have rapidly changed and girl gamers are out of the closet as a big audience for this medium, but they are severely underrepresented at these large shows.

It is important to think about for the future of the industry, and many male gamers may need to make some introspective assessments about their opinions on this topic. Let’s face it, we’ve all seen the internet comment’s and the hate that comes from others. It will take a collective audience to stand up against the internet trolls to make it unacceptable to be openly hateful.

As always, here’s to another interesting week. Cheers.

The Big Four

What did they do to you?: Our women heroes problem

Lara_Croft_Rise_of_the_tomb_raider_e3_2014_01Lara Croft is a strange icon, and her recent arc in games is even stranger: We’re going to legitimize this fetish object from the 1990s by battering her, and then taking her to therapy. I winced when I saw the 2012 trailer, the grunts of a woman being tenderized like a nice steak.

Yesterday at E3 it was announced that the “story” of Lara Croft is continuing, through Rise of the Tomb Raider — we see the action heroine talking with her therapist about post-traumatic stress. And I winced again.

This, we are made to understand, is how you become a heroine, a tomb raider. Our lead characters have to be hard, and while we accept a male hero with a five o’clock shadow and a bad attitude generally unquestioned, a woman seems to need a reason to be hard. Something had to have been done to her.

“I know it’s upsetting, what you’ve been through,” whispers another treatment figure to the heroine of Infamous: First Light, another game with a ponytailed heroine shown at E3 2014 last night. Like Lara, she wears a cozy hoodie, curls in on herself. We like to peek through the windows and behind the shower curtains and into the doctor’s appointments of our fragile heroines and voyeuristically thrill at their damage, looking forward to their moments of revelation and revenge.

It seems that when you want to make a woman into a hero, you hurt her first. When you want to make a man into a hero, you hurt… a woman first as well.

Men in video games are frequently defined by their fridge maidens. A man’s wife dies. Or his girlfriend, or his daughter or mother, and he is shattered, out for retribution.

Behind the sounds: Hotline Miami and FTL

FTL_Faster_Than_Light_basestar_ship_01Music man David Valjalo follows-up his exploration of the big-budget orchestral soundtracks in the mainstream games industry with a look at the other end of the scale – the super-low-budget, ultra-catchy, sometimes kitschy scores of indie darlings. He rounds up the men behind Hotline Miami, Sweden-based Dennis Wedin and Jonatan Soderstrom, two of the soundtrack artists they hand-picked, US artists M.O.O.N. and Scattle, and FTL composer Ben Prunty, to get the scoop on making music for small games and, quite often, small change.

Recently we learned all about the revolution in game music that had transformed soundtracks into orchestral epics. A newfound respect for and understanding of the importance of a score, in big budget games such as Black Ops 2 and the Assassin’s Creed series, had lead developers to embrace composers like Jack Wall and Jesper Kyd, giving them unprecedented creative freedom and powers. Sounds great, doesn’t it? A game soundtrack renaissance.

Well, here’s something less glitzy: aspiring game music composer Ben Prunty upped sticks in 1999 to move from his home in Maine to California with the ambition of breaking into the scene equipped with little more than a burning passion for game music. Most recently you might have heard his work proving a spacey soundtrack for the excellent, interstellar, roguelike-like FTL: Faster Than Light, but how long did Prunty have to wait for his big break? Around 13 years.

At E3, Microsoft tried to get players to fall back in love with them

Microsoft_E3_Xbox_One_2014“He’s in a very different, challenging place. He’s questioning everything. He’s questioning his past, his purpose, what he’s fighting for, why he’s fighting.” Bonnie Ross, general manager of 343 Industries, was speaking in deadly serious tones about the inner turmoil of Master Chief during a Halo 5: Guardians segment at the Xbox E3 press conference on Monday.

The hero of Microsoft’s flagship shooter was once defined as an unknowable superman in a suit of impenetrable green armor, too busy killing thousands of aliens to have feelings. But perhaps his taciturn attitude doesn’t market-test well anymore, as Master Chief has been granted emotional depth—or at the least the kind of emotion you get when your longtime artificial-intelligence companion dies, and you suddenly need motivation to go back to the front lines of yet another alien war.

The funny thing about Ross’ statement is that it could double as a psychological analysis of the Chief’s corporate bosses at Microsoft prior to this week’s E3. Now, that’s speculation. As with the giant visor-wearing mascot, it’s difficult to know exactly what’s going on behind Microsoft’s public-relations mask. I’d like to imagine that the folks from Redmond huddled together at some corporate retreat agonizing over sales data showing the Xbox One lagging behind the PlayStation 4 in overall sales—a reversal of fortune from the last wave of consoles. Perhaps then they reviewed the negative coverage in the press regarding some of their curious Xbox One business decisions. After some weeping and deep soul-searching, the execs ultimately decided to pull an about-face on their marketing strategy before taking up arms again at the front lines of the new console wars.

There were more severed heads than women presenters at E3 2014

Assassins_Creed_Unity_E3_trailer_2014_severed_head_01Last evening, Vlambeer developer Rami Ismail pointed out something rather disturbing. In a tweet, he noted, “PlayStation continues the ‘more severed heads’ than female speakers trend. #E3”

I actually kept a running tally, throughout the press events, and he’s correct.

There were five women presenters — speaking presenters — at the major press events this year. I’m counting Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft and Sony, all of whom had their major dog and pony shows yesterday. Six, if you count Respawn Entertainment’s Abbie Heppe laughing and making a comment about her colleague’s desire to meet Duke Nukem.

As for severed heads — there were at least 8, several of them in the Assassin’s Creed Unity demo — on spikes, no less. There were more in the Witcher Wild Hunt and Mortal Kombat trailers. If you count severed limbs, that number skyrockets. Instances of mutilation in general? We could be talking thousands.

But women presenting onstage? Five. People of color presenting onstage? Three. Overwhelmingly, the presenters at this year’s pressers were white, male and able-bodied.

This isn’t a new development. Press events at E3 aren’t typically known for their diversity — this is generally where the publishers and platform holders show off their safest bets with the biggest budgets. It’s not an excuse, but it’s important to understand why publishers do what they do.

Visual Stimulation

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Walkthrough Developer Gameplay

No Man’s Sky Gameplay Trailer

E3 2014: Giant Bomb Behind the Scenes

Civilization Beyond Earth E3 Gameplay

Browser Pick

Check out the Lands of Lorez

Extra Study Material

Nathan Grayson over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun was able to catch an extended gameplay demo of CD Projkt’s The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt in person at E3, and he came away with a few concerns. Hopefully the delay of a year will help iron out some of these issues he raises. Why I’m (Ever So Slightly) Worried About The Witcher 3

By now if you’ve been watching any E3 coverage you would surly have seen the amazing gameplay footage from Hello Game’s No Man’s Sky. It is hard to have missed it as the game looks amazing and has taken the industry by storm with its big dreams of the big sky. Dave Tach recounts how Hello Game’s was nearly destroyed last year in a flood, and their subsequent bounce back from disaster. “Back to work: The story of the Hello Games flood”

Two No Man’s Sky Pieces in a row? Yeah we’re really excited for this one also, and Evan Narcisse is just as excited as we are. Check out his thoughts on the upcoming space exploration game in his piece, “Why I’m Excited for No Man’s Sky”

Brian Kale
With a firm belief that the day doesn't start without a firm cup of coffee, Brian has been writing almost as long as he has been gaming. Based out of Brooklyn where he spends his days discussing the rise of robotic singularity and the modern RPG revival.
Brian Kale

@brianwkale

Helping humans help their robot help humans. Writer, Futurist, and Internet hack - not in that order. x.ai
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