Sunday, November 24, 2013

Being that I posted pre-release impressions of the Xbox One earlier last week, this week's A Week in Gaming is a bit abbreviated.

Now, let's take a look at a week in gaming from 11/18/13 to 11/22/13. Below is a feature discussing impressions of the Xbox One's line up based on launch day reviews.

Tropes vs. Women in Video Games: Ms. Male Character (11/18)

Anita Sarkeesian’s Trope vs Women in Video Games continues with the moniker, "Ms. Male Characters" which signify games’ history of identifying female counterparts of male characters with specific visual and characteristic tropes.
The earliest example of the Ms. Male character in video games is Ms. Pac-man, originating from Crazy Otto (Pac-Man with legs) to the most successful American arcade cabinet game of all time. Ms. Pac-man was easily distinguishable by the bow on her head, coupled with lipstick, long eyelashes, eye makeup, and a beauty mark. While the argument can be stated that in the 8 bit era, there was no other way to differentiate male from female, the proper follow up question would be, do all women wear a bow, have long eyelashes, wear makeup, and have beauty marks?
An easy example of gender neutrality is Metroid on the NES. Though there’s the issue of Samus’ increased physical sexuality as seeing her wear pink underwear, her Chozo armor gave no indication to her gender.
Ms. Male Characters have been identified by bows and other trope aesthetics for decades from Minnie Mouse, to Bubble Bobble, to Super Monkey Ball.
Anita drives the point that bows themselves are arbitrary in functionality as there’s no definitive exclusivity for them to be defined as female. In fact, stating that only women can wear such attire offends men that wish to express their sexuality in preferred and abstract ways. This expectation does send a message from certain male characters, such as Mario’s Birdo, which IGN alum Zack DeVries mentions in his Fake or Gay piece back in 2011. Here it shows a description of the assumed sexually confused character, “He thinks he’s a girl, and spits eggs from his mouth. He’s rather be called ‘birdetta’”.
The opposite can be said for the Angry Birds series, in which the white bird – who was revealed by Rovio – is actually a female named Matilda, underwent a character redesign with the obligatory “feminine” additions so that there would be no mistaking her gender.
But much like the colors pink and blue, there’s a socialized attachment to such aesthetics. And when coupled with other gender tropes, they create very clear stereotypes. Much like Princess Peach in Super Princes Peach for the DS, the koopaling Wendy expresses signifying characteristics in both her mannerisms and dialogue as being spoiled and bratty, all part of what Anita likes to call “Personality Female Syndrome”.
Another term Anita refers to is the “Smurfette Principle”, which describes a single female character in a roster of male counter parts. There’s the aforementioned Wendy koopaling, Scribblenauts’ Lilly of 42 children, Megaman’s Splash Woman of 78 bosses total, and Wonderful 101’s Wonder Pink.
The originator of the Smurfette Principle succinctly states:
“The message is clear. Boys are the norm, girls are the variation; boys are central; girls are peripheral; boys are individuals; girls are types. Boys define the group, the story and its code if values. Girls only exist in relation to boys.”
Anita follows up with this realization with an even more profound historical concept. As authored in the Bible, Eve was iterated from Adam’s rib who was created in God’s image. This just goes to show just how peripheral females have been viewed in societies for centuries.
To my ignorance, Anita also discussed the viral marketing of Mass Effect. Though the game itself sits comfortably in both gender and sexual orientation accommodation, ads have primarily featured the male version of Shepard instead of “Fem Shep”, the moniker given to the female version to differentiate her from Shepard, not “Male Shep”.
Anita closes with some examples of more appropriately female depictions in titles such as the blue cube Claire in Thomas Was Alone, and half of TowerFall’s roster as being female.
The Ms. Male Character trope, much like societies abided stereotypes, runs through an undercurrent in our subconscious. It seems to come natural to developers to “put a bow” on it, and dazzle them up with make-up and pink attire whereas what’s seen in other games such as Knytt Underground and Ittle Dew may be efforts of developers and writers to go out of their way in avoiding said tropes.
We’ve come a long way from being completely ignorant to tropes and stereotypes to holding active awareness. Let’s hope for a time where proper diversified depictions become second nature.
Day One with Xbox One (11/22)
The Controller
The Xbox One controller has surpassed the Xbox 360 controller as the most comfortable gamepad I’ve ever held; I specifically said “held”, not “used”.
It feels like my hand size is the target and ideal demographic for controller’s handling. Picking up the controller from a flat surface, I can roll my palms over it, and both of my hands position over it almost perfectly. The analog sticks feel as if they were specifically engineered for first person shooters. The textured edging on the joysticks make up for the smaller diameter; allowing a grip from every angle and helping to keep the sticks under your thumb. The height also helps, giving your thumbs an easier time to tilt the joystick in every which direction, and they make you feel more in control of camera movement.
The height of the sticks however do interfere with my reach to the View and Options buttons, forcing me to arch my thumbs down over the tall sticks. The Guide button now is completely out of the way, sitting at the top of the controller instead of dead center within reach. In retrospect, the Guide, View, and Options buttons are less comfortable to travel to than the Start, Select, and Guide buttons on the 360 controller.
The D Pad on the Xbox One feels more intuitive than that even on the Wii U Gamepad, with satisfying individual clicks instead of a bulky push of the entire pad. However, its diameter is too small for a controller in my opinion, leaving the better D Pad to the Dual Shocks 3&4. Continuing on the bridge of the controller, the face buttons are lower than the 360’s, requiring a little more effort to find than the previous generation.
The triggers and bumpers are a funny thing to describe. As the controller guides your hands closer, they feel more as if they’re going to meet at the top than ever before. For me, this causes me to slightly pull my index fingers outward to hit the triggers comfortably. I am more confident in saying, however, that I’m not a fan of the bumpers. The bumpers angle upward from the outside in, causing me to work on adjusting my indexes to match the angles instead to moving to a more comfortable horizontal position.
All in all, the Xbox One controller is sleek when holding; but in operation, if forces my fingers to do more work than they have on the 360. And if I were given an option to connect the 360 controller to the Xbox One, I would much prefer that.
The Home Screen
There seems to be only one circumstance in using gestures and voice recognition, if I’m already doing something with my hands preventing me from using the controller.
Voice recognition seems to work roughly 75% of the time, with a very annoying 25% of “Xbox, Xbox, Xbox…” Gestures are functional as long as you’re very careful, and are most reliable in my experience if you grab and drag to either left or right. Pushing to select an icon is even more cumbersome. You can’t just flick your hand towards the screen, you will have to carefully move your hand forward as it gradually reads the entire hand cursor. It’s a quick gradation that takes about a second to a second and a half, but it never bests using buttons.
But let me be honest, there’s nothing cooler than walking into a room saying, “Xbox, On.” and having the system respond to you before even picking up the controller.
Much of the UI is coached through tutorials which are now found under the default Featured column. You can learn all about voice commands and many of the system’s promoted apps, many in which you have to download briefly.
Waiting Patiently for Battlefield 4
As one who’s alien to the expectations of PC gaming, having to sit down for an install is a huge adjustment. It took about 15 minutes before I could dive into Battlefield 4’s campaign, and well over a half hour later, the full game download sat at 82%. That being said, this is the reason why I could only comment on Battlefield 4 and not having the chance to get hands on with Dead Rising 3.
Battlefield 4 is as good looking as one can expect it to be on next gen hardware. There’s full geometry and environmental objects that are present unlike – and I’m going to have to get used to saying this – what’s seen on last gen hardware. The lighting is sublime, illuminating specs of dust and bathing open environments exposing all their glory. The detail is also equally impressive, even down to the 3D modeling of leaves on a branch showing off their sprouting veins, casted shadows, and natural folding. It doesn’t look quite as impressive as the PC version; however such hardware only bests the Xbox One by a small margin, much smaller than the difference between the 360 and the Xbox One.
By the time I’ve finished writing this piece, the Battlefield 4 download now sits at 99%. Time to get used to next gen
…what was your first day with the Xbox One like?
A Week in Gaming Special Feature:
Xbox One Launch Title Review Blowout
Originally reported on November 21st 2013
Delivered in piecemeal throughout the week, Xbox One’s launch lineup reviews have finally gone live. The Xbox One might have the console edge with more retail releases, however some are said to be better than others.
Lococycle has been given the benefit of the doubt due to Twisted Pixel’s pedigree. But in spite of this, Lococycle has not been positively well received.
It’s 90’s B-movie parody seems to be the only thing holding Lococycle together. From goofy banter between sentient bikes IRIS and Spike, to grill cheese sandwich worshiping bikers, Lococycle doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously. However the questionable inclusion of Pablo, who’s mercilessly attached to IRIS as she speeds down highways brawling against bad guys, doesn’t hold much contextual justification, and might offend those who were skeptical of Lococycle’s content such as myself.
Lococycle is said to control as bad as it looks, which is surprising coming from the studio that has created tight platformers and even managed to create well designed software from the Xbox 360’s Kinect. You can just look at footage to pick up on awkward camera angles, and there hasn’t been a whole lot to say about the gameplay itself.
In a very short campaign, Lococycle is said to slip into spells of repetition of recycled sequences and drawn out sections that seem to bore even within its brief inclusion. We see glimpses of fighting game simulations, scrolling shooter sequences, high speed brawling, and water based surfing; however if critics are complaining that this game is boring even as one that’s between 2-4 hours, that’s not good at all.
Lococycle seems to be worth little more than a few short laughs. But if reported loose mechanics, bad camera and boring gameplay reign true, than Lococycle is far from the launch title you need to pay
Crimson Dragon
Guided on-rails shooters seem to be a dying genre only minimally revived what is now last generation. Having said that, there are very few who have stated that Crimson Dragon gives any indication that this genre or franchise needs to be revisited.
Crimson Dragon has hardly left any other impression than a soulless grind. RPG elements sounds like a fresh additive to the straight forward play style; however having to revisit levels over and over in an already repetitious game while slowly building up your dragons doesn’t sound fun at all.
Crimson Dragon looks to mix things up in the genre by adding free flying sections, however reported struggling cameras and difficult controls – primarily the lack of a hover functionality – seem to make these sequences a frustrating affair.
Based on critic reception, it’s hard to see any reason for Crimson Dragon’s inclusion in the launch line up other than taking the opportunity to grab some attention before these consoles evolve.
Killer Instinct
Killer Instinct looks to the bonus content in Xbox One’s line-up, a game that is said to be so fundamentally sound that both those enthused and intimidated by fighting games (such as myself) can easily pick up.
The first reason for this is simple, it’s free. Killer Instinct’s free-to-play model allows inexperienced fighting gamers to dip their toes – with the all-round balanced Jago – in the arena without cost before deciding if they wish to make a tangible investment by picking up multiple characters.
Killer Instinct is said to guide those players though well instructed and intricately designed tutorials, teaching players the fundamentals of Killer Instinct’s basics – and most importantly – its attack, counter, and counter-counter system.
Killer Instinct’s combat system is described as being digestible, yet dynamic without the technical memorization of button combinations. The focus here is Combo- Breakers. During a combo, the receiver has to combo-break with the same strength as the combo that's being executed. Attackers should anticipate a combo-breaker to counter with a counter-breaker. This overrides combo-breakers, allowing the attacker to stay on the offense. Combo-breakers don’t cost anything, however if the combo isn’t matched properly, you’ll receive a lockout, making you further vulnerable to a combo. Counter-breakers do come at a cost, half your energy to be exact. Failing these will, like a failed combo-breaker, will make you vulnerable after a lockout as well.
There seems to be little reason not to at least give Killer Instinct a chance. It’s a free fighter with a deep combat system that is also said to go out of its way to accommodate for newcomers as well as satiate experienced players.
Dead Rising 3
Though Dead Rising 3 isn’t the open world game to replace Watch Dogs this year, but nonetheless, numerous critics have reported that Dead Rising 3 is the “zombie squishing” escape that many of us have expectedly hoped for.
There are a number of complaints depending on who you talk to. The city is surprisingly small and cumbersome to wade your way through. The framerate issues haven’t been completely fixed, falling victim to mass vehicular devastation. The parodied stereotypes can be painful to watch and listen to. And, the game doesn’t always quite control well, particularly during boss fights.
But endless onslaught of creative zombie destruction has had an overbearingly positive impression on critics, overshadowing issues that would normally make other games unrecommendable. The incessant spamming of blueprints offering recipes for useful if not hilarious weapon and vehicle combinations has been said to keep investments locked. The incentive seems to compound upon itself with its leveling system which allows lead Nick Ramos to create even deadlier combinations, and ultimately watch more zombies break, peel, and split into bits.
All of the positive reception Dead Rising 3 received paint this sequel to be exactly what players were looking forward to, and ultimately give Xbox One purchasers a 30 hour justification to for their new system.
Ryse: Son of Rome
Ryse: Son of Rome seems to be more or less the Knack of the Xbox One; maybe not quite as disappointing, but reportedly underwhelming nonetheless.
Crytek seems to have this obsession of creating dramatic experiences that garner mixed appreciation. Ryse attempts just that with its narrative, and it might hold your attention well enough depending on your tastes.
Amidst its interesting-on-paper combat system that awards players with different perks based on the elicited execution, there’s an overwhelming consensus of lamenting Ryse’s shallowness in being too quick to show its entire hand. Action games hinge on the discovery or steady exposure to new ways in which to attack. But if Ryse stops showing anything new too soon, there’s little just incentive to keep on through monotonous tedium.
The multiplayer appears to be an expanded version of the co-op mode from God of War: Ascension with Mass Effect 3 style booster packs that hold pleasant surprises or disappointments. I never liked that in ME3; but even if you did, there doesn’t seem to be much to Ryse to keep one invested otherwise.
Ryse: Son of Rome seems to be your quintessential launch title: a technical show piece forced into a video game.
Forza Motorsport 5
Forza Motorsport 5 is probably the most confident game – next to Playtation 4’s Resogun – across both platforms. And it earns that confidence with only two common complaints being that there are less tracks and less cars.
But novice players will hardly notice the shortage with roughly 200 cars, and would more benefit from Forza’s pulsating and organic feedback, a literal meaning of both terms. It’s been said that the rumble feedback on the Xbox One controller teaches players how to drive better, with a very explicit line of communication indicating when players are running over rough terrain, when they’re taking hard turns, and other physical intricacies of the ride.
The other classroom sessions is reported to come from the AI themselves via Forza’s Drivatar system. Mimicking the behavior of cloud saved styles of real life players, competing cars are unpredictable, and will likely properly prepare you for direct competition online.
New comers can benefit from the rewind feature and broadcasted drive lines on the track, and veterans can extend their thumbs to open wheel racing, adjusting to F1 and indie car driving.
With Turn 10’s staggering attention to detail, celebration of car culture, and accommodating game design, critics agree that the drive-curious and drive fans can’t go wrong with Forza Motorsport 5.

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