Presumably last week the game industry in its entirety was still recovering like lazy drunks in the wake of E3. I was raring to make light of some news stories but there was nary one worth poking fun of. Kotaku ran an article about how the new Rainbow Six game would utilise a morality system – which seemed vaguely interesting considering Rainbow Six 3 let you handcuff surrendering terrorists before painting the walls with their brain porridge without ramification. Thus far though it seems to be taking the Hollywood summer blockbuster approach to it all. In the feature Kotaku described a scenario in which you had to opt to either throw a civilian suicide bomber off a bridge or, I don’t know, run as fast as possible in the other direction. Supposedly throwing poor Mr. Bomb off the bridge resulted in a series of flashbacks magically broadcasted into Team Rainbow’s eye holes. Didn’t you know? That’s what happens in real life when you kill another man.
That aside either I wasn’t paying attention or it was a dreary old week. Luckily proceedings have perked up over the past seven days. LA Noire chief (or dictator), Brendan McNamara responded to criticism of his work ethics (or lack of), Call of Duty: Black Ops became the best selling videogame in the UK of all time, Sony announced that Playstation Home users were the most hardcore gamers of them all (presumably not playing games and instead paying money to put a sofa in your virtual bedroom is key to being hardcore) and our American friends decided that videogames weren’t quite as bad as hardcore pornography and so shouldn’t be illegal to sell to minors. Clearly no-one in the Supreme Court has played Zombie Apocalypse. But let’s go with that one first.
Game Developers Granted Freedom of Speech (In the Year 2011)
The big story of the week – or victory if you like – was the Supreme Court’s rejection of California’s proposed ban on violent videogames to minors, meaning future videogames wouldn’t be subject to being made illegal based on their violent content. It was a ruling favoured 7-2 and issued in a pleasant wave of camaraderie among fans and developers the world over with websites bandying the word “victory” around willy nilly and eager forum-goers quick to tell videogame naysayers where to go to lament.
Joyous as the day was it’s utterly depressing that it ever had to exist in the first place. This was a decision to protect the right to free speech for all game developers that took no less than six years to be made; a right that filmmakers, authors, artists and pretty much every creative industry is blanketed by, covered by that thing they have: The First Amendment.
Just to put into perspective that point, take these delightful lyrics as an example of what musicians can wail about:
I sodomize the young and dying,
This sick hunger is my vice.
My lust to drip my rotten seed upon their cooling flesh so fare,
Of their gurgled screams I could never hear enough.
Bless their puny hearts and their sweet naiveties,
I fill the mouth with semen while the head still blinks and shakes,
Ten seconds is the window,
Another child has met his fate.
Charmingly faint, the Black Dahlia Murder there with The Window, a song about sodomizing dying children. Head on over to youtube for the full rendition or tell your kids about it (I hasten to add that I hate censorship, so wouldn’t advocate these being wiped from the face of the earth.)
Back to games then. Despite being vanquished by the Mighty Blade of Common Sense, those opposed to videogames didn’t steal into the shadows civilly. Of course they didn’t. Justice Stephen Breyer had this to say:
“What sense does it make to forbid selling to a 13-year-old boy a magazine with an image of a nude woman while protecting a sale to that 13-year-old of an interactive video game in which he actively, but virtually, binds and gags the woman, then tortures and kills her?”
As much as I like mocking the ignorant sometimes it’s just too easy, embarrassing even. Who knows which videogames Stephen Breyer covertly plays as the sun goes down – the police might be interested to know – but anyone with even a modicum of knowledge of videogames knows that that shit just doesn’t go down.
What I liked most about the ordeal were comments made by Justice Antonin Scalia to the effect that ‘all literature is essentially interactive.’ It is. 95% of games are powerless in comparison to even middling literature that it’s phenomenal this argument even exists. But that’s the power of ignorance I guess, as soon as you shut your eyes, put your hands over your ears and declare war there’s nothing to stop your inevitable crusade.
House of Mouse Decapitate Black Rock Studios
Black Rock Studios – the developer behind marvellous quad-bike racer Pure and the manic Split/Second – was terminated by Disney earlier in the week damning yet another great UK racing game studio to hell. Sources speaking to Eurogamer bemoaned the dearth of marketing for both Pure and Split/Second (viable complaints indeed) and how Disney itself had handled the studio.
This just reeks of the whole Raven farce with Activision. Raven make Singularity – a really fucking good first person shooter – Activision send a pamphlet to someone in Australia and that’s the extent of their marketing campaign. Meanwhile, 7 copies of Singularity go on to be sold leaving Activision no choice but to bend Raven over its knee and spank it raw before deporting it off to the purgatory of Call of Duty map pack making.
Luckily for Black Rock Disney don’t have a Call of Duty and so the thankless crew have set about establishing a trio of new studios. Here’s really hoping at least one of them sets about making quality racing games because with the axing of Bizarre and now Black Rock, the studios responsible for some of the best racing games going are steadily being butchered. If Studio Liverpool go I’ll never play games again.
Capcom Forget to Incorporate Save System into RE: Mercs
Capcom caused some furor when it became apparent that 3DS spin off Resident Evil: Mercenaries not only came with just one save slot but also wouldn’t allow gamers to delete their saved games. Backlash was swift with some Eager Maries labelling it a punishing attack on the used games market while others just thought it was a really fucking stupid oversight.
I fall in with the latter category. It’s easy to see how Capcom could have thought a save function wouldn’t be necessary in game. Mercenaries, an auxiliary mode first seen in Resident Evil 4 and far removed from the series’ traditionally survival horror style, is straight up, in-your-face ballsy action, tasking players with racking up points based on how quickly and effectively they painted the world with the inner workings of Los Ganados and company. It’s a pretty good score attack mode and with the 3DS marks its first venture out as a standalone game.
As the game features no story mode, focusing instead on the player attaining high scores in a series of arenas, Capcom could be forgiven for thinking saves weren’t much of a necessity. Unlocks wouldn’t need to be un-unlocked and no-one’s going to want to reset their hard-earned scores.
Addressing the complaint in a Capcom Unity blog post, community manager Shaun Baxter defended the decision:
“There was no intention of lessening the experience of the game. Essentially, RE Mercs was treated like an arcade fighting game. You unlock characters, levels, etc and they just stay unlocked as they would in an arcade machine.”
“There was no hidden motive to prevent buying used copies. It’s not some secret form of DRM. It’s simply the way we designed the save system to work with the arcade type of gameplay.”
Fair enough. But then plenty of people like to share games with their siblings and in twenty years time when someone sits down with their kids and says: “3D was all we had back in the day” – although lets not forget scratch and sniff game discs – their children are going to think we were all pansies in need of homing rocket launchers and swathes of armour to defeat a few lumbering zombies in the tutorial.
Team Bondi a Really Great Place to Work, Start a Family in Australia Today
Now that L.A. Noire has finally made it out into the world, having survived a seven year gestation period that saw it start life as a SCEA funded Playstation exclusive, word of the development … let’s be kind for now and call it process … has started to emerge. Bondi spending zillions on proprietary technology, former staff being axed from the credits list, unfair working practices and the words “corpse grinder” employed to describe the studio were a sprinkling of many accusations targeted at both Team Bondi and Rockstar. Sounds like standard issue Rockstar practice to me, the notorious corpse grinders.
Fast forward a few weeks and IGN Australia go digging to secure an interview with McNamara. The huge two page article – which not only gives McNamara a chance to go on record to “defend” himself but also delves into detail regarding the development of Noire – saw the Bondi bossman not only fail to quell the allegations, but fail to even bother to try to do so in the first place. Clearly a man unfazed by running a corpse grinding facility.
Which doesn’t come as much of a surprise, seven years is a long time to sit on an egg and I can only imagine the feeling of relief when that egg hatches, comparable to, say, the weird solace after a bout of violent vomiting.
But McNamara seems to have lost the plot a little during the process. On hours:
“We all work the same hours. People don’t work any longer hours than I do. I don’t turn up at 9am and go home at 5pm, and go to the beach. I’m here at the same hours as everybody else is.”
On the accusation that he’s a regular Gordon Ramsey in the proverbial development kitchen:
“Am I passionate about making the game? Absolutely. Do you think that I’m going to voice my opinion? Absolutely. But I don’t think that’s verbal abuse.”
On whether or not you can make games without a few team suicides:
“The expectation is slightly weird here, that you can do this stuff without killing yourself. Well, you can’t, whether it’s in London or New York or wherever; you’re competing against the best people in the world at what they do, and you just have to be prepared to do what you have to do to compete against those people.”
On whether or not he took onboard employee feedback:
“I don’t know, it was 2007.”
“It’s my game. I can go to anyone I want in the team and say, ‘I want it changed’.”
McNamara there, having clearly graduated from the Egyptian Pharaoh School of Leadership.
It’s all too easy to write the man off as the narcissistic jackass he so aptly paints himself as but the videogame industry – the AAA side of it at least – doesn’t exactly have an immaculate record when it comes to nursing its workers. And in turn those workers are hardly vehemently supportive of their industry.
There’ll always be people like McNamara who peddle the dog-eat-dog mantra, who believe that just because there’s a surplus in people looking to enter the industry they can afford to burn their current wave of employees out and hire in new guys at the end of each cycle. McNamara claims he works the same hours as everybody else but makes no comment regarding his own wages. He claims its his game, failing to acknowledge the hundreds of people who have brought to life his concept. It’s their game.
You’ve probably got to accept that to some degree, when working for a studio like EA or Rockstar, it’s going to get ugly. But it shouldn’t be ugly from start to finish and flirting with illegal practices and treating your staff like lab-rats is not only unethical but also illogical. Happy employees should want to work, want to make great games and at the end of the product cycle shouldn’t be heading for the doors quicker than I was having accidentally wandered into a screening of Transformers 3.
I guess the question is, with the IDGA now investigating Bondi, could this herald a turnaround for employee conditions in the videogame industry, a bright new dawn for all those thankless people on and omitted from the credits lists?
Limbo Headed to PSN
Morose indie-knockout Limbo is to make its way onto both the Playstation Network and Steam later in the year. Limbo is a game about an eleven year old boy trapped in the nether-regions in search for his sister and the many ways in which he can die, come back to life, and then die again. It won my downloadable game of the year award, a prize so coveted Playdead have yet to come to my home to claim it. It’s still here, in the form of a melted Mars Bar and a firm handshake.
More Red Dead Redemption DLC on the Horizon
In a vaguely similar fashion Rockstar announced that the expansion pack Undead Nightmare (whichI quite enjoyed) would not be the final chance for gamers to step into the worn boots of John Marston. Fantastic news, with GTAV a ways off and L.A. Noire failing to better either Red Dead or GTAIV, a jaunt back through the Wild West is most appealing.
UK People Enjoy Black Ops Some
Call of Duty: Black Ops eclipsed forerunner Modern Warfare 2 this week to become the best-selling videogame ever in the United Kingdom, earning the title in less than 9 months. As of June 25th Black Ops sales were sitting pretty at 3,722,411 – ahead of Modern Warfare 2’s 3,702,410. Having already vanquished the likes of Avatar DVD/Blu Ray sales to become 2010’s best selling piece of entertainment, what else is there left to defeat for the slightly-above-average first person shooter? Veracious.