Despite the cohorts happy to renege unthinkingly on the trite “it’s just a game” defence (effectively damning us all to an eternity’s worth of games starring dudebro American saviours sipping bravado milkshakes as they claw the civilised world back from the precipice the Middle-Easterners/Asians/Russians so desperately want to nudge us off), we’re questioning the industry’s dirty inner workings more than ever. This is absolutely a positive thing. In the same breath that Warren Spector is hailing the current era as the “golden age” he’s voicing concern over the ultraviolence displayed at E3. When the executive producer of the new Tomb Raider comes out and claims players will want to “protect” Lara after her near-rape, people are quick to speak up. The Hitman Absolution sexy-nuns/sexy-death fiasco prompted intelligent rebuke and so too has the benighted response to a Kickstarter campaign for the ‘Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games’ web series, a series that sets firmly the industry’s flagrant sexism in its sights (and has wonderfully raised $158,000, $152,000 more than it needed to go ahead, up yours fuckheads.)
This is absolutely a positive thing. If we probe, question, lambast and commend loudly enough we can emerge from the cesspit that allows tossers like Crystal Dynamics to assume that its audience is so consumed by virility and ignorance that the sight of a helpless knot of pixels with breasts makes for a perfect marketing strategy, that allows for tossers like IO who are so quick to assume that its audience is so incomprehensibly stupid that the mere site of some sexy nuns being thumped on the nose in slow motion will be titillating enough to net a couple more pre-orders. We need to be commend the people that are willing to take a step back and constructively criticise the industry – because there’s not many people willing to – and berate every indolent, ignorant that’s ‘tired’ or ‘doesn’t see what the big deal is’ or thinks ‘it’s just a game’.
And with that…
Warren Spector Not So Keen on “Ultraviolence”
The man responsible for System Shock, Deus Ex, Thief and most recently Epic Mickey has voiced his concerns over the rambunctious and prevalent violence on show at this year’s E3. Nary a trailer whisked by without some hapless chap being acquainted with the business end of a hunting knife or being bestowed with a shotgun kiss at point-blank range. Where’s the love, videogame makers? Spector believes we need to stop championing those .50 cal white-of-the-eye hammer-blows if we’re going to move on from the shallow violence so rife in contemporary games,
“The ultraviolence has to stop. We have to stop loving it. I just don’t believe in the effects argument at all, but I do believe that we are fetishising violence, and now in some cases actually combining it with an adolescent approach to sexuality. I just think it’s in bad taste. Ultimately I think it will cause us trouble.
“We’ve gone too far. The slow-motion blood spurts, the impalement by deadly assassins, the knives, shoulders, elbows to the throat.”
Spector’s most interesting comments however, regard violence in Deus Ex and why that’s different,
“You know, Deus Ex had its moments of violence, but they were designed – whether they succeeded or not I can’t say – but they were designed to make you uncomfortable, and I don’t see that happening now. I think we’re just appealing to an adolescent mindset and calling it mature.”
First off, it’s certifiably insane that violence in videogames is so meaningless and hollow. There’s a manifest difference between hacking the legs off Mutant Mr. Tickle in Dead Space or lopping the dome off a zombie cheerleader in Lollipop Chainsaw mid-cartwheel and executing a chap with a super-close-up Desert Eagle shot in Max Payne 3. The idea of smashing another gent’s head in with the butt end of a handgun made of metal, placing the gun to his forehead and spitting forth hot, fiery endgame should really, really, carry some dramatic and emotional weight. But it’s so quick, so frequent and so audiovisually satisfying (swooping cameras, heightened gunshot noises as an exclamation mark bringing up the rear of that “I’m a fucking God!” feeling) that it becomes some kind of twisted ballet that’s more consummate in its beauty than its appalling nature.
Problem is, and what Spector hints at, is there’s nothing boiling away beneath the facade of gore geysers and crumpled bodies to give it that dramatic weight though; there’s nothing to make it uncomfortable until you give it some thought two weeks later. Chump 427 in Max Payne 3 is just another identikit knot of pixels without the common sense required to go hide in the corner when Max Payne comes a knocking. We know nothing about Chump 427 bar the fact that he wants Max dead. That won’t do, so there’s no reason to give a damn when his brain vacates its nest in all its pugnacious glory. Which is partly the reason why SPOILER> Marcello’s death is a whole lot more shocking. He’s irritating and obnoxious but made human through his interactions with Max; you can relate to him which in turn makes his death more uncomfortable. >SPOILER
I’m not sure the violence is so much the problem (at least until you arrive at Hitman: Absolution’s nuns) but the prevalence off the trivial violence in lieu of how little meaningful violence we witness in videogames. It’s all glorified, offhand pew pew, and we could do with a mix.
Take-Two Boss Follows up Nintendo’s E3 Conference With a Touch More Gloom
E3 was Nintendo’s opportunity to cajole those of us with dusty Wii’s and a wagonload of cynicism into believing that the Wii U was for everyone; that it would cut a happy divide between casual and core. It was Nintendo’s opportunity to convince us that no, the WiiU wouldn’t be another putrid gutter for shovel-ware to stagnate in monstrous quantities, that no, it wouldn’t be another third-party fiasco, that yes, it would have an online-infrastructure rivalling what Microsoft and Sony managed six years ago, that yes, there would be games; Metroid, F-Zero, Super Smash Bros, Zelda, Pikmin, and that yes, there would be innovative, exciting uses for that second screen. Yes chaps, there would be a reason for everyone to own a WiiU.
And they bungled it with gusto. The third party support consisted of Rocksteady demoing Batman: Arkham City (control the Baterang with motion control!), a game that’s already 8 months old. The 23 games Reggie promised when the skies were blue and the sun was shining, well they arrived in montage form with footage that, really, could have been captured from an Xbox. Instead of any real games (Pikmin aside) we were bushwhacked by a 15-minute demonstration of some horror known as Nintendo Land with no less than three videos highlighting how wicked-cool the hub world was. But “no time” for Zelda, F-Zero, Metroid, Super Smash Bros, a Mario to rival Galaxy (although we did get an HD sequel to that four player one). The clouds continued to darken as details surfaced regarding the controller’s 3-5 hour battery life and an announcement that any online messages tossed into the Miiverse would have to be moderated by a real-life human being, thus damning even a winky-face to a thirty-minute delay, minimum.
The conference closed to a whisper of applause during which you could smell through the internet itself and across eight timezones the despondency seeping from the wretched shells shuffling out of that conference theater.
Take-Two boss Strauss Zelnick has done little to lighten the mood in the wake of E3, confirming that none of the mega-publisher’s core franchises will be making their way to the Wii U anytime soon. That’s the likes of Borderlands 2, Bioshock Infinite, Grand Theft Auto 5, any further Max Payne, L.A. Noire, Red Dead, or Mafia titles MIA. But here’s the thing. Why would Take-Two bother?
Zelnick isn’t blue about all future tech, though. Quite the opposite,
“For a company like ours, it’s a great opportunity. [New consoles] separate the winners from the losers – and we fully expect to be one of the winners.”
History teaches us not to bet against Nintendo, but are the people that made up the “casual audience” that sent the Wii rocketing into the stratosphere going to be so willing to spend £250+ so that they can play Wii Fit in HD? Nintendo needed to wheedle the core gamer back for this one and, with a good opportunity going begging, they foundered.
Activision Condemns Another Studio to Call of Duty Duty
Not content with failing to market Singularity and then damning Raven Software to map-pack-purgatory as a result, Activision has sent Neversoft on its merry way to board the Monotony Express. That’s Infinity Ward, Treyarch, Neversoft, Raven and Sledgehammer all working under the Call of Duty banner now. Hooray! It’s not clear what role Neversoft will play as part of the Call of Duty squad, but unless they’re developing a music rhythm spinoff in which you win World War Seventeen by launching nuclear harmonies at Russia you can bet it’s going to be a waste of talent.