Let's take a look at a week in gaming from 11/4/13 to 11/8/13. Below is a feature about the strangely under the radar controversy about Twisted Pixel's LocoCycle content.
Steam Box and Controller Update: Do we still want one? (11/4)
A ton of details emerged last week on Valve’s couch gaming initiative across their Steam controller, Steam Box hardware as well as software. While we still don’t know much more about the Steam machines themselves, we’ve been given a little background about the controller’s development, and an interesting take on how Valve will approach software on their platforms.
Initially it was unclear if the Steam controller was to take on the genre landscape as a whole, or just bring PC gaming to the living room. Valve’s Greg Coomer’s statements of approaching the “whole catalog” suggests the former, but the history of the controller’s development hints at the later.
The original trackball idea is undoubtedly PC influenced, taking the archaic input feature and prototyping it on their controller concept. It’s a bizarre pitch that would have arguably flopped, especially given that trackballs have been absent from the popular PC space for years, and can only be imagined for limited types of games.
We were briskly paced through the touch only phase where Valve thrusted itself into accommodating for all 104 keys on the keyboard. This concept eventually evolved into what we see now.
Valve is clearly confident in their controller’s ability to accommodate for all genres, claiming that they’ve played and won games in every competitive genre with the exception of DOTA. But I still have my reservations with both the odd button placement and the lack of a traditional D-pad despite what their engineers and early testers who’ve had the chance to mess around with the thing have stated.
That’s what’s so valuable about their hardware beta. Despite their confidence in believing that they’ve engineered the perfect controller, it would be foolish to release it to the masses without consumer feedback. I fully bear in mind that I’ve yet to touch the controller and won’t get a chance to until the hardware’s official launch, but I would have to see it and hold it to believe it.
It’s exciting to hear that we’re going to begin hearing news about the machines themselves as early as CES next January. And despite the skeptism asking, “Who is this console for?” it makes sense that Valve is only looking for a slow burn over the course of the next several years.
One can easily imagine that one of two minds will be attracted to the idea of a Steam Box: those who would like to enter PC gaming without the headache and the cost (such as myself), and those looking to just simply take their already established PC gaming experience to the living room without running an HDMI cable to their display. But regardless the small interest now, I’m confident that if Valve fulfills on their promises, word of mouth from strong supporters will balloon the number of Steam Boxes in living rooms.
Vale clearly doesn’t need to do this. With Steam being 65 million subscribers strong, this is clearly an elaborate passion investment. But as lucrative as Valve is as a company, I worry about the yet to be named hardware partners’ stake in this living room initiative. If this push fails, certainly Valve will still [weather the flop], but will their partners?
Lastly, we can finally rest easy and not have to worry that the now again hypothesized Half-Life 3 being a Steam Box exclusive. Valve’s Anna Sweet boasts a very admirable philosophy in encouraging developers to land their games on as many platforms as possible (sounds very similar to Ouya’s founder Julie Uhrman’s statements of encouraging developers to test their software on the Android system first before moving onto other platforms).
Ostensibly, this goes against the console game of tug of war that capitalizes on exclusivity. But Valve’s strong suit isn’t in software alone, especially when going up against the likes of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. What attracts me as well as many other gamers are Steam deals [early access, and games that release on the Steam platform long before anywhere else]. It’s almost safe to say that it goes without saying that we’ll see the same Steam deals on these machines as we do currently. And once this market place establishes itself, then we could see a much larger shift than those who’ve moved to Sony's platforms for Playstation Plus.
The next console generation might be in full swing weeks away with the launch of the Xbox One after this week's PS4, however there is yet another addition to the console space fast approaching possibly as early as next year. We have a firm idea of the direction Sony and Microsoft are taking their systems. However we cannot anticipate what Valve will add to the console space. But I’m willing to bet that the Steam Boxes’ addition to the living room equation will change the console landscape much more drastically than what traditional consoles have allowed us to imagine.
Image Source: Engadget
My first impressions of Call of Duty: Ghosts (11/5)
The first few hours of a Call of Duty experience can easily evoke of feeling of more of the same. And while my first day (played around the hours of being a responsible social worker) was so much like other Call of Duty titles, there was enough seen in my first time with it that hints at major changes for the franchise.
Even within an hour of playing Call of Duty Ghosts multiplayer, there are subtle design changes that make significant differences in both how you play and experience competitive multiplayer. IGN's Scott Lowe made some profound observations of the new maps. They are indeed significantly larger than previous Call of Duty games. This is turn reinforces, as he points out, better performing and more reliable mid to long range rifles (Marksman, Assault, etc).
With the wider real estate comes valuable verticality. Maps like Siege are unfriendly to those that stay low with no direction. This approach will box you in tunnel vision, negating any awareness of danger approaching from around the corner or from above. It then becomes increasingly important to gain some latitude for a quick look ahead before making your way around the map.
Verticality is also multi-leveled, which is why Ghosts introduces [vertical] identifiers on the mini map, a much needed addition just as it was appreciated in Halo 4. I can’t imagine playing maps like Flooded without this feature. Taking place in a destroyed dam split in half, Flooded’s multi-level set up makes [vertical] locating a necessity.
Flooded is also a great place to practice Ghosts’ new maneuverability mechanics. There are plenty of corners to lean around, a number of obstacles to vault over, and plenty of opportunities to knee slide to safety.
Infinity Ward may have put an almost unnecessary amount of effort around their new dynamic sound engine, but none of these audio tweaks are as effective as the sound of female soldiers shouting during battle. It creates a different audible environment when listening to women barking the locations of enemy combatants and alerting you for confirmed kills. It’s a small addition that makes me very much appreciate the gender diversity.
There isn’t a whole lot to say about the first hour or so of Ghosts’ campaign. Black Ops 2 boasted such a strong emphasis on story unlike any installment before it that Ghosts is going to have to take major narrative leaps in order to rise above its predecessor.
The gunplay is largely unchanged within the first hour outside of oriented space shootouts and the mildly appreciated Riley sequences. Again, this is the first hour. There are allegedly 9 more hours of opportunity to mix things up in a big way.
So that’s my brief time with Call of Duty: Ghosts. Look forward to my full review later this month.
When will Call of Duty fall of the throne? (11/7)
Though Activision’s recent sales figures of $1 billion doesn’t reflect consumer sales, and is very likely a PR cover up of what Call of Duty: Ghosts actual units sales figures are, the Call of Duty franchise is still hugely profitable for Activision, and their latest installment is shaping up to be the best selling title this year only second to GTA V as far as we know.
But with a new console generation comes new opportunities for paradigms to shift, and within the next few years, we may finally see a less COD dominated AAA shooter space.
Respawn’s reclaiming next gen juggernaut Titanfall won’t be able to compete with Call of Duty simply because of their Xbox console exclusive. But beyond March 11th, we may begin to see signs of the potential popularity of the franchise. Titanfall’s revolutionized COD mechanics is hard to ignore which is undeniable knowing Respawn’s Infinity Ward veterans. These aspects are bound to capture the attention of even the slightest jaded Call of Duty player, and the amount of attention it has built since E3 will only continue to grow.
With the studio’s intention to remain independent for the time being, it’s hard to tell if Titanfall will grow into a franchise that churns out installments relatively close to one another. But with it potentially expanding to Sony’s platforms in future titles in the series, it quite possibly could be one of the most popular franchises in the next generation.
“From the creators of Halo and the company that brought you Call of Duty…” Though it would be foolish to think that Destiny was being developed to directly compete with Call of Duty, Activision’s gamble on Bungie’s next shooter could suggest that the publisher is preparing themselves for Call of Duty’s shrinkage.
Activision doesn’t bet on franchises without the expectation of them being a colossal success. We’ve seen it with Tony Hawk, Guitar Hero, Call of Duty, and Skylanders. The mere fact that that they’re investing in a franchise that’s within the same genre as their most profitable product yet speaks volumes for a publisher that funds few yet hugely successful franchises. And with the Bungie’s pedigree along with the speaks-for-itself marketing – hence the above used quote – Activision can very well be positioning themselves with a franchise that could outlast Call of Duty.
As a Call of Duty fan, I’d hate to see the franchise reduce to dust like past Activision lost and forgotten successes. But there are at least two new next gen shooters in the horizon that are catering to the Call of Duty audience with fresh ideas. It would be interesting to see the positioning of Call of Duty next to Titanfall and Destiny within the next three years.
A Week in Gaming Special Feature:
Xbox One's Most Racist Launch Title?
Originally reported on November 8th 2013
The name doesn’t verbalize much, but looking at the context of the game itself, it becomes clear what this title – and more importantly – this game is all about.
You play as I.R.I.S., a motorcycle with a female persona who’s dragging a helpless Spanish speaking (who looks to be a…) mechanic named Pablo down sped-through highways in this car combat style arcade game. The hook here is that Pablo is crying out for help in Spanish as I.R.I.S. willfully carries along whipping Pablo around as she kicks the crap out of enemies with no clue or care for Pablo’s pleas.
It’s intended to be a comedic premise, a brand of humor that is far more crude than what developer Twisted Pixel has ever done.
IGN's Jose Otero originally brought up his beef with LocoCycle on Podcast Unlocked, stating that the game offends him. IGN's Ryan McCaffrey got behind Jose’s unsettlement with the game after the LocoCycle’s campy trailer, particularly in a scene where Pablo pleads for help to a hopeful samaritan who dismisses him for speaking “Mexican”.
As a Black male who’s been a victim of racism for two decades and as a social worker who’s predisposed to cultural competency and political correctness, LocoCycle doesn’t sit well with me at all.
LocoCycle’s shtick can’t get away from the nation’s prejudicial propensity to disregard non English speaking legal and illegal immigrants. And it very well could intend not to be. The trailer’s 80’s goof looks to parody all sorts of American and movie stereotypes. But looking at a point made by Anita Sarkeesian, delivering a message through a tongue-in-cheek parody does little to serve a purpose by repeating [the target of satire].
But there’s a deeper level of unsettlement to LocoCycle’s premise, one that’s far more disturbing for those of us old enough to remember it. On June 7th, 1998, a Texan African American man named James Byrd Jr. was brutally murdered in a hate crime. Three men chained him to the back of a pickup truck and dragged his body for three miles. The makeshift lynching became fatal when his body hit the edge of a culvert, severing his head and right arm.
I’m convinced that there is no intended reference to this crime in LocoCycle, but the racial undertones of the game and the tortuous act that so closely replicates this 15 year old hate crime is hard to ignore.
Clearly not everyone aligns with this level of unease of LocoCycle. I showed videos and explained the premise to my girlfriend who’s half Puerto Rican. Who I thought would take the most offense to LocoCycle’s plot was to my surprise indifferent and nonchalant to the Hispanic portrayal, stating that she understood the brand of humor as simply just ‘humor’. Nothing else.
The worse I’ll label Twisted Pixel is being insensitive. But in all fairness, we can point the same finger to Seth MacFarlane and the South Park co-writers (it’s interesting how Ryan McCaffrey didn’t care for LocoCycle’s “Mexican” joke who also happens to be a huge South Park fan). Perhaps it’s that we’re not used to seeing this brand of humor in video games.
But if Twisted Pixel is going to go down this touchy route, it better be damn funny.