I hope everyone had a good holiday if you celebrate, and will continue to enjoy your holiday season into the new year.
I'll announce some slight changes to this blog today. This will be the last "A Week in Gaming". Instead, I'll move to posting daily content, so be sure to check in every other day instead of at the end of the week. Quantitatively, nothing will change. Just think of it as taking the week-in-review and spreading them individually throughout the week.
Now for the last time, let's take a look at a week in gaming from 12/23/13 to 12/27/13. Below is a feature discussing some of the questionable racial and underrepresented depictions in two of Xbox One's launch titles.
What is No Man’s Sky? (12/23)
It’s always upsetting to hear bad news during the holidays. While there were no lives lost, floods hit Guildford in the U.K. on Christmas Eve home to the following developers: 22Cans, Electronic Arts UK, Fireproof Games, JiggeryPokery, Kinesthetic Games, Lionhead Studios, Media Molecule, Pitbull Studio, Rodeo Games, Supermassive and Twistplay. Two so far have reportedly been hit by the storm, Strike Suit Zero’s developer Born Ready Games, and the studio behind the VGX’s hit debut for No Man’s Sky, Hello Games.
Many only know No Man’s Sky behind it’s awe inspiring trailer. What better time to discuss what we know about No Man’s Sky thus far.
No Man’s Sky has far more to it than being a persistent online space that one can easily draw comparison to a game like Destiny with a rich art style similar to The Witness.
Conceptually, No Man’s Sky bares resemblance to games like the lonely MirrorMoon Ep and the more appropriately compared Starbound, both heavily driven by their exploratory gameplay. Such is the case with Hello Games’ new 4 man project, only with a different ambition. Lead developer Sean Murray means something very different when he discusses exploration in the context of NMS. This isn’t Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag's sailing the ocean, kicking open chests and chasing shanties; this is true Enterprise exploration, “going where no man (or player) has gone before”.
Within NMS’s 9 month development, Hello Games has been focused on creating ecological systems through procedural generation. Erosion has a gradual effect on locations in the galaxy, the atmosphere dictates the color of the sky, certain planetary variables can cause mutations (massive sand worm?) creating even more dangerous creatures. The intention is for everything to happen for a reason in NMS. Sean Murray carefully puts it, “We are designing a set of rules, not designing a game.”
With an ever changing galaxy, it is your job as well as everyone else’s, to push against it towards the center of the galaxy as you all begin at the galaxy’s crust. Each player will begin in a more human friendly, and less hazardous environment. Looking up from that point of origin, there is no sky box; there is no cosmetic sparkling star or a crescent view of a planet painted on the sky; everything you see is a location. As you press onward, you must gather resources to upgrade your character to not only get stronger, but to survive against the environments and the creatures that lie ahead as well as build your ship to expedite your journey to the galaxy’s center.
This game of resource management is the primary incentive to explore. Each location you come across, if you happen to be the first person to discover it, you will get credit for setting foot on it first. That’s what we all saw when the text: “New Ediru Ocean. Discovered by Hello Games – Hazel” appeared at the beginning of the trailer. First-dibs-players can create beacons for other players at that location, or they can take advantage of being first and leech the planet of its valuable resources.
This game of resource management also has complete command over your journey as well. There is no Game Over and restarting at checkpoints; in NMS, you can’t necessarily die. Instead, instead you’ll lose your gathered resources. If you happen to crash land on a planet and your ship is destroyed, you’ll lose everything in it; and yes, that’ll also mean that you’re stranded planet side. It’ll then be your job to build a new ship and take off.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun reports that one of NMS’s biggest misconceptions is that it’ll be a multiplayer game with a bunch of space frontiersmen flying around. You won’ t necessarily see other players in NMS, but its galaxy is shared among players to the extent that if you commit genocide to an entire species, that species will vanish for other players.
Combat is clearly apart of NMS as it’s a game of survival as it is about exploration. Expect combat encounters both planet side and in space as we’ve seen in the brief look at the space ship battles in the trailer. Not much has been said about the ground combat, however traditional FPS gameplay seems practical enough.
Much of what we know of No Man’s Sky at the time is a product of 9 months of development. And especially given the devastation that has stricken the studio after the flood, who knows how much its development will be affected. But one thing’s for sure, No Man’s Sky is easily one of the most anticipated games resting on the distant horizon, and we’re all rooting for Hello Games’ successful completion.
Resident Evil’s Oxymoronic Marketing (12/27)
Let’s get this out of the way first. Resident Evil has, and continues to be one of if not the most successful selling “survival horror” franchise in the industry. Despite how many feel about the franchise as of late, it’s a widely popular series.
But that still doesn’t make us feel any better about how much worse it’s gotten.
Like a proper marketing division, Capcom’s marketing behind Resident Evil targets with cultural awareness. For example, to the American audience, ads look to emphasize the horror atmosphere of their titles whereas the game’s characters get the attention when targeting a Japanese audience. Looking at the box art for the Japanese and American versions of Resident Evil 6, over in the east has the ensemble of characters lined up on the cover while here in the west simply has the giraffe “blow-job” looking “6” caked in spider webs.
Nearing its 18th anniversary, Capcom bares in mind that their oldest fans easily sit upwards to their early 40’s. In attempts to keep the older demographic interested, Capcom seeks other means such as linking up with fashion brands, instilling Resident Evil themes in Japan’s Universal Studios, and the Biohazard Café and Grill S.T.A.R.S. in Tokyo.
Here’s how a cynic might find this futile.
In spite of the marketing attempts to highlight the series’ horror themes in the west, series producer Masachika Kawata explicitly stated that they intend on making the franchise more action oriented in order to compete in the American market. Horror atmosphere; action oriented; both for the American market.
Though much of the franchise’s known attempts at expanding its marketing outside of gaming constraints seem to be in Japan, particularly in the west, many of the Resident Evil’s oldest fans are likely to also be its harshest critics. Resident Evil is virtually unrecognizable from its origins; not just in technology, buts in its theme and pacing as well. Resident Evil 6 and Raccoon City are arguably the franchise’s biggest offenders.
Fortunately there’s still a horror spirit left in Resident Evil. Resident Evil: Revelations is one of the most classic installments in the series in years, for better or for worse; and Capcom saw the market to bring it from the 3DS to home consoles.
However it seems that the Resident Evil franchise will suffer from an identity crisis for years to come. Marketed as a survival horror, and playing like a mediocre third person action shooter, Resident Evil’s messaging is oxymoronic.
A Week in Gaming Special Feature:
Were you offended by Xbox One's
Originally reported on December 23rd 2013
There are many takeaways from the wealth of games that have launched from these fresh next gen platforms. The Playstation 4 offers some well worth downloadable titles, a number of them free-to-play especially if you’re a Playstation Plus subscriber. The Xbox One may not have as many worthy small titles as Sony’s system outside of Killer Instinct and Peggle 2, however it certainly has strong heavier titles, ones that you’ll want to show off with your shiny new hardware in the form of Forza 5 and Dead Rising 3.
But while we debate which console had the best launch line-up, I’ve found myself looking at some of these games in a very different light, and not a good one either. Within the Xbox One’s launch line-up, two games in particular present a concern in cultural competency.
Lococycle, Twisted Pixels vehicular brawler, managed to rub some folks the wrong way before and after its release. IGN’s Jose Otero was very vocal about his issues which were later validated by Ryan McCaffery, Polygon’s Danielle Riendeau was deeply offended at the game’s number of depictions of underrepresented demographics as a way to create humor, and I expressed great concern of the game’s narrative anchor looking too much like some of this nation’s most heinous hate crimes.
Lococycle’s elevator pitch is this: a sentient motorcycle is being hunted down by her makers, the Big Arms Corporation, while she drags around a helpless mechanic, Pablo, whom she can’t understand his pleas because he speaks – as another character in the game puts it – “Mexican”. This “Speak English!” treatment of Lococycle’s most victimized character hits home for many American immigrants. The subject matter has been explored before in much more refined comedic attempts, however Lococycle isn’t so much funny as it is “mean”.
But Lococycle also goes the South Park route of targeting multiple minorities and underrepresented groups. Its pervasive failings extend to depictions of North Koreans, Africans, Russians, midgets, and plus sized women.
Twisted Pixel’s sophomoric and offensive writing isn’t Lococycle’s biggest problem, it’s the uncomfortable resemblance of brutal hate crimes that’s most unsettling. The act of having Pablo dragged throughout Lococycle’s entirety draws too many parallels with the murder of African American James Byrd Jr. who was chained to the back of a pick-up truck and dragged 3 miles to his death in Texas. Lococycle’s overt attempts at comedic racism and perhaps unfortunate coincidence of mirroring vehicular lynching makes Lococycle arguably the most racist game of 2013.
Dead Rising 3 fairs better than Lococycle’s disastrous failings, but its minority depictions seem to be a product of desperation rather than ignorance. In my Dead Rising 3 review, I discussed some of the game’s portrayal of Asians, African Americans and West Indians. Your first Psycho is a depressed Asian man expectedly outfitted with a monk garb and armed with a traditional polearm. Later on, you may run into a West Indian survivor who used her Voodoo to combat zombies in the graveyard. Even after you complete her side quest, for no discernable reason, she kills herself.
But one of the most aggressively offensive encounters – next to the plus sized wheelchair bound Psycho – is Big D, another survivor who you’ll meet in Los Perdidos. As a gangster with a gangster moniker, his attire hits the expected stereotypes: brimmed hat, obnoxiously large gold chain with a dollar sign, and he seems to be one of the few survivors who’s coincidentally armed with a gun. After escorting him to his “Pad” you’ll discover a hog-tied woman on his table where soon after her pleas, he barks at her, “Shut up ho!” and refers to her as a “bitch” when he asks you to kill her. Of course, your objective is to then kill him.
Both Lococycle and Dead Rising 3 run into a different problem in video game depictions of minority and underrepresented groups. The issue doesn’t come from not knowing Blacks, Asians, and plus sized women outside of media depicted stereotypes; this issue lies inwhat these stereotypes represent and trying to replicate them through comedy, comedy that falls completely flat on their faces.
Video games have begun undergoing a renaissance of cultural competency, building racially and culturally diverse studios that can offer a better perspective on minority and underrepresented groups. But it seems that a new movement is developing in the industry, controversial comedy. Obsidian is set to release South Park: The Stick of Truth early next year, a show that has historically been unapologetically racist, but being damn funny while at it. I have a long running statement that I’ve stood by for many years, “If you’re gonna be racist, you better be funny.”
However neither Lococycle nor Dead Rising 3 are all that funny.