Welcome back! You made it through another week.
It’s still August, and that means half of the industry is at Gamescom or on vacation, but don’t worry; plenty happened this week in gaming. First up is a great profile of the voice actress Jennifer Hale, known for her voice work as Shepard in the Mass Effect series, followed by a comparison between big blockbuster movies and the trends of AAA games. Then we’ll take a look at the experiences of LeSean Payne and his relation with videogames over the last twenty years; before finally we talk about doping in eSports.
Don’t worry, the future talk and robot take over is all in the Visual Stimulation portion of the piece.
And as always, here’s to another good week. Cheers.
The Big Four
I know this article might be a little outdated – say by about three years now – but it is still a great read about one of videogame’s most famous invisible contributors. Jennifer Hale’s role as Shepard in the Mass Effect franchise has propelled her into gaming history, with many hailing her as the better of the two Shepard choices.
The behind the scenes work of voice actors is fascinating, and now more than ever with motion capture and cameras rolling constantly. We’re able to see what is happening when real life humans bring our favorite characters to life, and it is compelling to watch a more goes into voice acting than live acting. Seriously, voice acting is considered to be much harder than actual acting, take a look at how many people are panning Peter Dinklage’sperformance in Destiny. It’s hard to get inside of a dark little box with no one there to bounce your lines off and put emotions into said lines.
This is the main reason why Hale, Nolan North, and Troy Baker are in so many games: it’s hard to find good people, and when you are good you’ll get work. Developers are now catching on to the fact that people want to see the people behind the voices and it is hard not to see developer videos highlighting recording sessions for any big game. Its fun to watch Baker sing his final lines of dialogue from The Last of Us, or watching Hale riff as one of the Lutece Twins.
Many games are defined by the actors that bring the various characters alive, their voices become as iconic as their image. Solid Snake, Nathan Drake, Shepard all are made more real by the actors that breathed life into them. Give the article a read if you are at all interested in voice acting, and it is humorous to read about how Hale doesn’t play games and her experience with Mass Effect 2.
“It wasn’t that good, but it was big. That’s the greatest trick blockbusters ever pulled: convincing the world that they were fun and entertaining simply by virtue of being big and looking fun and entertaining.”
This quote perfectly encapsulates my feelings about most open world and non-linear games; they sacrifice focus and pacing for choice and size. This isn’t to say that games like Grand Theft Auto and the like are not great and amazing games, because they are. GTAV’s San Andreas Island is a massive world populated with a lot of things to experience and see, you could spend hours getting lost as you traverse the game world.
But to what end?
Any connection to the story of the characters is lost by huge portions of downtime between missions, and it’s easy to get distracted and forget what you are supposed to be doing at any given moment. The open-ended gameplay comes at the expense of the overall narrative, and personally that detracts from the overall experience for me.
As a prime example I present you the Metal Gear Solid franchise, but more specifically Snake Eater and Phantom Pain. Snake Eater experience – and all the previous installments – was a tightly woven narratives set within one location with a clear mission objective and story. Their scope was smaller but carried more weight because of their pacing and focused direction. Snake was one person, alone on a single mission who had to overcome fatigue and was woefully unprepared for the foe he faced.
While Phantom Pain is not currently out, it is said to contain many of the gameplay elements from Peace Walker. Specifically Phantom Pain will have a home base, side-missions, and some amount of downtime between the large open worlds and the base area. I’ve played Peace Walker and I found the mission breaks to be disruptive to the pacing of the game and it through in a lot of extra side content that further distracted from the main story.
All of this made the game feel less important, even though it was really big and full of cool stuff. There was a lack of urgency similar to the one found in Mass Effect 3 where Earth was being destroyed, but first you have to go dick off on some mindless gathering quest. It is a huge disconnect between the narrative story and the gameplay that breaks all immersion for me and I end up not caring about the story. Why should I feel any sense of danger in Grand Theft Auto when the character feels like they have enough time to play golf?
I’m hoping Kojima will surprise me in Phantom Pain, but more and more games are looking to capture the open world choice that Skyrim made popular. If I hear the lines “see that mountain? You can go there,” I’ll lose it; I’m looking at you Zelda.
“It’s difficult to look at the world through someone else’s eyes, and even more difficult to grasp their basic morals and ideas. But ideas come from experiences, of which we only know our own. I’m here to present you with a lens through which I viewed my life; a memoir on gaming while black.”
LeSean Payne is right when he says this, and it is often overlooked by popular media and news outlets. Many of us have grown up playing games where the characters reflect who we are in real life, and we do it without a second though. Last week I talked about the role female player characters have a in our experiences with games and the disconnect between female gamers and the mount of female characters.
Payne has grown up with videogames, and to some extent they’ve grown up with him, too. When he was young, most of the black characters were stereotypes or bad guys, and he associated himself more with white characters. How Barrett from Final Fantasy VII represented everything I did not want to grow up to be, a large profane man who was different from the rest of the cast in more ways than the color of his skin.
I enjoy reading about others and their experiences with games, because really I only have my own personal experiences to go from. When I read over Payne’s piece for Polygon I wasn’t so much moved as I was inspired by his journey through life, and his up and down experiences with videogames. Reading about his struggles in accepting himself for who he is was inspiring. Who can’t relate to that?
This isn’t a story that inspired a direct opinion from me, but it’s one I think you should hear as it speaks for itself.
“I have seen players pop a pill even an hour before important games either to calm them down or push themselves.”
Last week, New Scientist reported on Bjoern Franzen – a former consultant for an eSports company – and his public declaration that eSports is rampant with doping. Franzen’s detailed blog post and interview have laid out the very rampant issue of drug usage of the athletes, and the subsequent turning of a blind eye by media and the companies. And that the real threat is coming from the pressure to escalate to more to play more.
As a huge fan of eSports I’m disappointed to hear this news, but honestly it comes as no shock to me, because as I see it all sports are dealing with the modern issue of performance enhancing drugs. It is hard to regulate an already unregulated industry (eSports), and one that has largely grown up in the players homes free of any oversight. Many of these teams live in group housing, and the money is such that players spot on teams is never cemented. If you go on a bad run you’ll be cut for the next younger faster player waiting in line to take your spot.
There is no incentive for the teams to police themselves or their players, nor is there an incentive for the larger companies that host the tournaments. Just as in baseball, there is not anyone telling these players to take the drugs to compete at higher levels. Problems arise when cocktails are used, multiple drugs multiple effects can create dangerous combinations and the potential for overdose. Not to mention the side effects and longer term damage of prolonged usage.
The over use of chemical drugs is an issue of our times, and one that could have long standing medical ramifications of our population as a whole. Every sport deals with the issue of PEDs and as eSports transitions into the mainstream, it will have to handle the problem as well.
Humans Need Not Apply
Mega Man and the Singularity
Simply one of the best Dota 2 Matches I’ve ever seen – LGD vs DK | International Newbie Stream
Where (& What) Are The Infinity Stones?
Extra study material
As someone who is constantly fascinated by the lengths people will go too to break a videogame and see all its secrets I am constantly on the lookout for new speed runs and glitches. Not because I ever hope to do these things but as a reminder that games are still games, and ones that can be broken. Mario 64 captured the imagination of a generation over ten years ago, but people are still finding new hidden things within the game. Read up on Matt Gerardi’s “The quest for Super Mario 64’s “impossible coins” and “mystery Goomba” for more.
In my ongoing efforts to raise awareness about the coming changes to our way of life because of our technological achievements, I am constantly on the lookout for new sources of information to share with those around me. Our education system is in need a change and we need to question the roles of large institutions that produce a lot of monetary waste for little pay off. Instead we should focus on the bottom line, read up on some new ideas in “The Future of College?” by Graeme Wood.
And if you are feeling even more adventurous check out Paul Campos’ “The Law-School Scam” to really make you rethink the role higher education will pay in our economy and society.