Tag Archives: Opinion

GamerGate – Welcome to games-journalism

I’ve been quiet lately. Illnesses and time in hospitals are partly to blame, but so has “GamerGate”, the elephant in the room that I’ve been reluctant to talk about.

GamerGate is a mixed-bag of intractable stuff, much of it (at best) misguided, and (at worst) ridiculous and offensive. Whatever its ostensible mission, it has had the effect of chilling speech, and causing many female games-writers and games-developers to consider another career, or to fear for their safety and that of their families.

I’ve not wanted to talk about this, because I’ve already gotten a dose of that treatment myself, and it is more or less inevitable that even the slightest criticism of GamerGate will likely generate more. Nevertheless, there are things that I feel need to be said.

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Strippers versus Evil

Strippers versus evil

There are some games that make me purely ashamed to call myself a gamer. Every entertainment industry has its share of tripe, but in gaming, some of it can be really easy to spot.

The quality of a game is generally inversely proportional to the quantity of breast tissue visible in its advertising and promotional artwork.

It ain’t always so, but that’s sure the way to bet.

Traditionally, Deep Silver’s Sacred 2: Fallen Angel was the go-to example of that, for me (it’s not the only offender, and not even the worst, but I’m singling it out, here). Scantily-clad female characters with breasts as large (or larger) than their heads, bouncing and jiggling their way around the countryside to save the world in ‘armour’ (and I use the term advisedly) that would hardly be out of place in a strip-club, and that just seemingly gets scantier and more lingerie-like as its protection increases.

Puh-lease!

Because heck, a woman can’t go out to battle evil unless she looks like an itinerant underwear model, right? I mean, who is going to face giant spiders or a goblin shaman without stocking up on thigh-stockings, suspender belts and high heels?

To be fair, starting out, at least you get to look like a high-school-girl cosplayer, but it doesn’t take long before the mini-skirt has to go, to be replaced by a g-string.

Worse, I actually liked the game to which this was the regrettable sequel. Quite a bit.

Now, I don’t have an issue with the human body – like most people, I’m pretty fond of them, and I like looking at them, with and without clothes on. I think I can confidently say that you and I both, dear reader, are happy with the overall idea of seeing more naked human bodies in future. That’s all a part of being an adult and having an endocrine system, I’m sure.

That’s not really the problem that I have here.

It’s not even like X-COM: Apocalypse, the third iteration in the X-COM series, where there must have been some bet going as to just how many depictions of female and male genitalia that the art department could work into the in-game artwork without the publisher … errr … let us say “cock-blocking” it (congratulations are in order, I suppose, because it was a lot!).

And even that isn’t my problem.

What the problem is, is that it is demeaning.

Not just that it is demeaning to women – which it most obviously is – but that it’s demeaning to Deep Silver, to (the now defunct) Ascaron who developed it, to the artists, marketers, producers, designers who worked on it, and especially to the games industry (as a whole) and to gamers, to whom they apparently thought this sort of thing would be of broad appeal.

If I had this game in my work history, I’d leave a gap in my CV. I wouldn’t want anyone to know.

Now that I’m done singling out Sacred 2, additional exhibits are – alas – not nearly as uncommon as I’d like. Scarlet Blade comes immediately to mind, or League of Angels.

Now, I’m not saying that demeaning crap like this can’t be made. Freedom of speech and expression cuts both ways. It’s easy to grant that right to speech and expression that we like, agree with and approve of.

It’s when you find the speech and expression to be appalling, offensive and antithetical to your very sensibilities that you have to take a breath and remember that that kind of speech and expression has all the same rights.

That said, I’d like it if some of the people responsible for this sort of thing were to just sit back, take a breath of their own, and consider having some darned respect for women, for gamers, and for the gaming industry.

For a change.

Guns, violence, video-games, and the media

"Don't blame [GTA San Andreas logo], 'cos it ain't San Andreas' fault"

Within mere minutes of any mass-shooting, the media (and assorted interest groups) are keen to tell you why the shooter(s) did what they did. In the recent shooting at Sandy Hook, Newtown, Connecticut, everyone was keen to explain in detail exactly why Adam Lanza murdered a bunch of people and then killed himself.

Of course, since (at the time) they didn’t even have the right name, the various motivations espoused for Lanza’s killing-spree were nothing more than purest fabrication. Fantasy and lies, basically. If anyone actually has gotten it right (and the truth will probably never be known) then it was only by accident – not by any great feats of journalism, investigation, facts, statistics, or deductive reasoning.

Violent video-games (in fact, just video-games generally) once again take pride-of-place as the culprit for this incident, and that’s demonstrably a load of hooey. I won’t try to tell you why Adam Lanza (or many of these other mass-shooters) did what he did, or what would have made things better – I don’t have authoritative information on that – but I can show you that video-games are not to blame.

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The Secret World

Seshat and Feldspar visit The Secret World

Two people stand in varying stages of readiness. A man with pistols and a woman holding metal claws. Both are sensibly dressed, in a field in front of a stone church.

In the wake of the release of Funcom’s new subscription-MMOG, The Secret World, my minions, Seshat and Feldspar delve into this new offering in the MMOG market and return with their impressions.

The Secret World drops players into a modern, yet magical world where most of the conspiracy theories are true. As the unexpected recipient of strange, magical energies, players align themselves with one of three vast, secret societies, to further their faction’s interests and thwart or avert whatever the apocalypse du jour may be.

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The final choice is the weakest choice

An image of the complex narrative tree for kono yo no hate de koi wo utau shoujo YU-NO, a visual novel game by games developer ELF - image source unknown

The release (and reaction to) Bioware’s Mass Effect 3 gave me an occasion to talk about game endings and the sorts of narrative cop-outs that arise from them. Now, Mass Effect 3 has had an “extended cut” of its endings, and I’m going to take that as a cue to do an extended cut of talking about narrative choices.

In short, of all of the choices presented in an interactive narrative, the final choice is almost always going to be the weakest choice.

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I can’t tell you what piracy is doing, but it doesn’t seem to be killing the industry

Capture of the Pirate, Blackbeard, 1718 depicting the battle between Blackbeard the Pirate and Lieutenant Maynard in Ocracoke Bay (cropped)

The fact is that despite the movie and games industries bemoaning rampant and uncontrolled piracy of their products, both industries are burgeoning. The movie industry is “suffering” under record revenues, and the games industry revenues have grown more than 300% in the last decade (to more than double that of the movie industry).

And yes, rampant and uncontrolled piracy is happening – yet the industry is getting more money over the counter than ever before. It’s difficult, then, for the industries to show how much they’re being hurt. Would their record revenues be higher? By how much? Nobody knows the answer, but thanks to France, we can take a guess.

You see, back in 2010, France introduced stiff anti-piracy legislation that (after a bit of a rocky start in its early months) reduced online piracy by a whopping 66%. How, you might ask, did this affect sales?

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3D graphics performance is all about control

A desert tortoise with the caption "I used to race Achilles, then I took an arrow to the knee"

The Elder Scrolls Online, Zenimax’s upcoming MMOG take on the Elder Scrolls universe is going to have nowhere near the sort of graphical fidelity that you’re used to from, say, Skyrim. And there’s good reasons for that. Reasons that are applicable to pretty much every graphical title you’re likely to encounter, from IMVU and Second Life to … well, Skyrim and The Elder Scrolls Online.

Leaving aside the individual hardware for just a moment, perhaps the single most important factors in graphical performance, is control.

The customer has 3D graphics hardware, and your software contains a tuned and optimised 3D graphics rendering engine and pipeline. That’s great.

However, the best 3D graphics engine on the best 3D graphics hardware can still run about as well as a wounded tortoise if you don’t exercise proper control.

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You are the controller. Again.

Front view of the Xbox Kinect accessory

E3 2012 seems to be a bit of a … well, mostly it seems to be … is there really a good word for the opposite of innovative announcements? That’s the vibe I’m largely feeling. Mostly E3 2012 is producing exactly the announcements and viewings that you’d expect it to, with little surprise.

One actually interesting thing is that Microsoft seems to largely be resigned to giving up, or at the very least heavily-downplaying, motion control through its Kinect product.

“You are the controller”, certainly, but it seems to be almost all focused around voice control rather than tracking the motion of players for input.

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The E3 event horizon

An overhead map of the South Hall of the E3 Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center

E3 has it’s own gravity-well, an “event” horizon (no pun intended) that pulls in game-development, and mangles development, PR and marketing schedules in its fierce, distorting grip.

Hastily cobbled together demonstrations, unrepresentative footage and more, all of which contrive to steal as much as a full quarter’s development time away from actually working on making genuine progress on the game. Perhaps the worst place to get news about games is E3 and the E3 floor. Better, more reliable, news and media mostly happen after E3 is done.

Even the trailers get tainted by E3’s peculiar distortions and gravitic homogeneity.

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