Hello, and welcome to the seventy-first edition of RPGamer's Currents column.
As you're all likely aware, there was no column last week. I have already apologized and explained this in a recent team-up with Shawn on Q&Abuse, but just for the record, I was simply too busy with academics and such to produce a column. This tragedy will NOT be repeating itself on a regular basis--or so I hope, at least.
In the time I've been gone, I finished Devil May Cry, and then went on to start and finish Ico. Both were spectacular games, and I look forward to playing DMC 2-4 in the near future. I am also on pins and needles in anticipation of Team Ico's next project, which, supposedly, has long been in the works for PS3, but no official announcement has been made. They need to hurry up; it's been almost three years since Shadow of the Colossus was released
After Ico, I promptly went and downloaded Castlevania: Symphony of the Night from PSN. I have never played Castlevania before, and my first impressions have not been good; it seems to be a lot of aimless wandering and dull combat. That is, dull combat in which I constantly die. Maybe I just suck at the game, but I have died so many times that it's really starting to frustrate me. Right now I'm stuck on a boss that I can't beat simply because every time I reach him, my HP have been whittled down to almost none, and I die instantly. Placing boss battles so far away from save points is an abominable practice and it needs to be done away with. I have no problem with difficult games, but SotN is just not engaging enough to make me endure the pain it's dishing out. Thusly, I will probably just start Lost Odyssey tonight and forget that SotN even exists.
We have a fair amount of news this week touching on some fairly diverse topics. So, without further ado, let us proceed!
Call of Duty 4 Wins Big, Mass Effect Honored
What? No Halo 3?
I think it will be a while yet before the ESA's Interactive Achievement Awards are given the same recognition as the Oscars or Grammys, but they seem to be on their way. 2008's D.I.C.E (Design, Innovate, Communicate, Entertain) Summit, held at the Red Rock Casino and Resort in Las Vegas, was a fairly swanky affair, with appearances by entertainment figures such as Gore Verbinksi of Pirates of the Caribbean fame, and industry figures such as David Jaffe and Ken Kuturagi.
Unsurprisingly perhaps, the big winners of the night were Call of Duty 4 and 2K's critically lauded action game BioShock. Activision's Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare took top honors with the prestigious Overall Game of the Year award. It won three additional awards as well, including Console Game of the Year, Action Game of the Year, and Outstanding Achievement in Online Game Play. BioShock tied with four awards, including Outstanding Achievement in Original Music Composition, Outstanding Achievement in Story Development, Outstanding Achievement in Art Direction, and Outstanding Achievement in Sound Design. On the RPG side, Mass Effect walked away with Role Playing Game of the Year, winning over nominees Eternal Sonata, Jeanne d'Arc, Rogue Galaxy, and The Witcher. World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade won Massively Multiplayer Game of the Year, since the ESA evidently counts expansion packs as viable nominees. Another award worth noting was not given to a videogame. Ken Kuturagi, former president of Sony Computer Entertainment, took the stage to receive a lifetime achievement honor.
I generally pay almost no attention to award shows, even when they do concern videogames. I browse through GameSpot's Best and Worst awards, but that's about it. However, I admire the ESA's efforts to bring further recognition to the videogame industry. These games, and the people who made them, deserve to be honored. I just wish RPGs were a little better represented, but hey, you can't win them all. GameSpot covered the entire event live and has a lot of videos from the show. To see them, plus the entire list of nominees and winners, go here.
Industry Figures Talk Storytelling
Let me tell you a tale
Story and plot development have always been what I value most of all in an RPG, and I believe they are crucial aspects of all videogames outside of, say, Madden. I know that many of you would disagree with me and stand firmly by the principles that value gameplay above all else, and I understand that. However, it is my personal opinion that in order to move forward, the videogame industry must establish itself as a viable source of storytelling. How is this done? Produce games with good stories.
During the D.I.C.E Summit, GameSpot's Ricardo Torres discussed the importance of storytelling in games with three prominent industry figures: Ken Levine, founder and creative director of 2K Boston; Greg LoPiccolo, vice president of product development at Harmonix; and Dr. Ray Muzyka, chairman, CEO, and founder of BioWare. In case you're out of the loop, 2K was responsible for BioShock, Harmonix for Rock Band, and BioWare for Mass Effect.
The conversation they had was quite interesting, with many different aspects of videogame narrative discussed. You can read the full article here, and I would suggest you do so. I agree with Muzyka that videogame narratives can be expressed in many different ways, but some of their comments are perhaps a little over-the-top. For example, Muzyka speaks of finding narrative within "multiplayer interaction" and "communities outside the game." I must respectfully disagree and state that a narrative is supposed to convey some sort of plot; hard to find within a Halo 3 deathmatch. I also find it somewhat ridiculous that a game like Rock Band is even being brought into a conversation about storytelling. Some games are not intended to tell a story, and Rock Band is most definitely one of them. Just because a game conveys a certain emotion does not mean it tells a story. Do games differ in their mode of storytelling? Absolutely. Not every game needs hours of noninteractive cutscenes to get its point across, I understand that perfectly. For instance, Ico probably has a collective fifteen minutes of cutscenes, yet manages to tell a very effective (albeit rather simple) tale of friendship and determination. Xenosaga tells a tale with far too many layers to condense here, and does so through countless hours of movie scenes. There are many different ways to express narrative, but it's important to stay focused on what fundamentally makes a good story, regardless of what form it is in.
KETV-7: Videogames "Normalize Killing"
Are these stations THAT hard up for material?
Right on the heels of the recent Fox News Mass Effect debacle, yet another TV station has decided to join the fun. KETV-7 of Omaha recently aired a segment in which reporter Suzanne Deyo interviewed a child psychologist and a local parent concerning the supposed harmful effects of violent games. As would be expected, both of them managed to offer a negative viewpoint, and the segment came off as yet another blatant slap in the face of the game industry. According to the psychologist, Dr. Greg Snyder, even the mildest of videogames nurture an individual's murderous tendencies. "Exposure to violent video games, even E-rated video games, increases aggressive thoughts, increases pro-social behavior, and increases general arousal. The more normal [violence] is, the more likely it is they're going to activate or engage in those behaviors when provoked or even unprovoked." The parents, Lora and Chuck Payne apparently don't limit what their son plays. Despite this, they too believe that violent games encourage children to act accordingly. In the oh-so-eloquent words of Mr. Payne, "when they're done playing, that's all that's on their mind. Kill. Kill. Kill." He then proudly states that his son is limited to just one hour of gaming a day. He may be playing GTA during that one hour period, but hey, it's only an hour.
Blah. Another cookie-cutter child psychologist who finds videogames to be a prime target, and another cookie-cutter family playing to the camera for their fifteen seconds of fame. This sort of sensationalist portrayal of videogames in the mainstream media is beyond ridiculous. While they may not realize it, the only people they're appealing to here is the ultra-conservative Luddite community. A certain blogger named Colin Campbell summed this fact up very well in a column of his, in which he basically states that most people these days play videogames, and the mainstream media needs to realize that bashing the videogame industry will not gain them points with many. "Playing games is the thing regular people do. So when the networks start blustering about how it’s 'interactivity' or 'gore' or 'porn' in games that does the damage, they look like idiots. And not just to some hardcore fraternity of die-hard gamers, but to millions of their viewers." Well said. I take comfort in the knowledge that theirs is a dying generation. Take at a look at the full article; it's a pretty good read.
Namco Points Fingers at Wii
Wii don't care
When's the last time any of you visited an arcade? Most of my fellow North American residents probably can't remember the last time they were in an arcade. My arcade gaming experience is practically non-existent, although I realize that there are those out there who remember them fondly. They're all but dead in North America, although they've held on tight in Japan for quite a while now.
However, according to a recent report by Reuters, Namco Bandai will soon be closing between 50 and 60 arcades in Japan, which accounts for nearly one-fifth of the total. Why? Well if you were to ask Namco, they'd tell you that it's the fault of Nintendo's new motion-sensitive system, the Wii. In the words of company spokesman Yuji Machida, "A lot of the types of games that people played at an arcade can now be done at home [on the Wii]." Namco Bandai has slashed their full-year profit predictions by 38 percent from an earlier estimate to 16.5 billion yen. ($155 million).
This is not an issue to me, and I daresay not an issue to most North American gamers. Arcades represent an era of gaming that passed on quite some time ago. It is worth taking note of however, and I'm sure that this is far more significant to our friends over in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Chinese Government "Suggests" Certain Games
Here... let us help you choose
Do you think our government plays too much of a role in our everyday life? Take a look at China, and more specifically at this new scheme they've come up with. According to Chinese news site Xinhua, China's Ministry of Culture has compiled a list of 10 games that they have deemed "healthy." This comes hot on the heels of last month's report that the Chinese government would be cracking down on certain "undesirable" online games in an attempt to control internet addiction.
The Chinese government doesn't seem to be banning other titles, but this "suggestion" is still a disturbing step towards unneeded regulation. At the same time though, this is hardly surprising, as China is notorious for policing the internet activities of its citizens. Thusly, videogames, especially online games, are sure to present themselves as prime targets.
ESRB Reports Fewer M-rated Titles in 2007
wtf, stoopid kid gaems
We all know how much of a fuss is made these days concerning the evils of M-rated games. If people were to rely entirely on the mainstream media, they'd likely come away with the impression that by default, videogames are superviolent, M-rated, filth vessels. But if someone were to look at the raw numbers, what would they find? Well, the ESRB has recently released a breakdown of the ratings they gave in 2007, and the numbers therein are interesting to note.
As it would turn out, 59% of the videogames released in 2007 were rated E for Everyone. After it came the T for Teen rating with 20%, E10+ with 15%, and lastly, M for Mature with a mere 6%- down from 8% in 2006. In all, the ESRB gave out 1,563 ratings last year, which accounted for a 22% increase over 2006, and the largest number of ratings the organization has ever given in a single year.
When I read this, I was suddenly reminded of a certain article I read a few months ago, in which it was stated that M-rated games sold better than any other rating. According to a study conducted sometime last September by interactive research firm Electronic Entertainment Design and Research, this is indeed the case. Apparently, M-rated titles not only have the highest average score on MetaCritic, but they also have the highest average gross sales in North America.
Interesting statistics. I'm not sure there's an easy explanation for it, although I'm sure there's more than a few who would attribute it to some kind of "moral decline" among society or some nonsense like that. Personally, I do not give even a passing glance at the rating of of a game I want; it makes absolutely no difference to me whether a game is rated E or M. I don't find it "mature" to play M-rated games, nor inherently childish to play E-rated games. But, if you take a look at all the critically-acclaimed titles that came out last year, the majority of them are M-rated. I'm talking about the award-winners; games like BioShock, Mass Effect, Assassin's Creed, Halo 3, and Call of Duty 4. Considering that those five titles represent some of the best-reviewed and best-selling games of 2007, the statistics are actually quite believable. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues into 2008 and beyond.
QUICKIES: In Which I Make Passing Mention of Some Relatively Small, But Inherently Awesome News Stories!
Yes, I made a minor change
Smash Bros. Sells a Million
How many of you are excited about the upcoming Super Smash Bros. Brawl? I certainly am, along with the majority of us here at RPGamer. (Just listen to any of our podcasts for the last month or so!) Nintendo has delayed the game many times now- much to our collective displeasure- but it seems as if this March 9 release date is a fairly safe bet, considering the game has been out for almost two weeks in Japan. Its reception? Overwhelmingly positive would be the best way to put it. According to a recent report from Reuters, the game has sold 1.08 million copies in just 11 days, which makes it the fastest-selling Wii title ever released. Impressive, most impressive. Nintendo really does need to confirm a European release date though. The delays we've gone through are painful enough; I can only imagine what they must feel like.
Yahoo Rejects Microsoft
This is a little more on the techy, businessy side of things, but I deem it acceptable for a Quickie. You've likely heard that Microsoft attempted to buy out Yahoo! in a $44.6 billion offer. Well, after some deliberations, Yahoo has formally rejected Microsoft's offer, stating that "The board believes that Microsoft's proposal substantially undervalues Yahoo," and that "the proposal is not in the best interests of Yahoo and our stockholders." However, Microsoft is not giving up, calling Yahoo's decision "unfortunate" and stating that "The Yahoo response does not change our belief in the strategic and financial merits of our proposal." In so many words, they threatened a hostile takeover. It will be interesting to see what the outcome is.
Netflix Dumps HD-DVD
In the latest bit of bad news for the HD-DVD, online movie rental service Netflix has announced that they will only carry Blu-ray movies among their hi-def selections. "The prolonged period of competition between two formats has prevented clear communication to the consumer regarding the richness of the high-def experience versus standard definition," said content officer Ted Sarandos. Netflix claims to be the largest rental service in North America, with seven million subscribers and close to 90,000 movies in their library. Currently, they stock only 400 Blu-ray movies.
Wal-Mart Hides M-rated Games
Well-known retail giant Wal-Mart has recently announced that they will be hiding the covers of M-rated videogames with a black sleeve, only allowing the title to be seen. "It is the responsibility of Wal-Mart to protect our children from potentially damaging content, such as the covers of some video games,” said a company spokesperson. Ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous. Will they be doing the same thing to R-rated films, I wonder? How about any adult books they sell? I don't believe I've ever seen a videogame cover that could be deemed offensive, or at least not the point where it needs to be covered up. But for some odd reason, the popular opinion these days is that M-rated games are somehow comparable to porn; so when you consider it in that light it (sadly) makes sense.
GamaSutra Reflects on Dragon Quest
Dragon Quest fans, come hither! GamaSutra, a website devoted to "The Art and Business of Making Games" has put together a neat little feature on the history of the Dragon Quest series. I'm a rather inexperienced DQ fan, as I've only played VIII, but I found it to be interesting nonetheless. I'm sure a hardcore DQ fan would find it even more so. Check it out!
RANDOM IMAGE: In Which Strange, Whacky, or Otherwise Unorthodox Images are Collected!
Microsoft Cheaps Out on Lost Odyssey
Above is a picture of the interior of the Lost Odyssey packaging for North America. Note that it is similar to Blue Dragon, with three discs stacked atop eachother. However, Lost Odyssey has four discs total, and no more than three can be stacked. Microsoft's solution? A handy, paper sleeve. Brilliant!
I could be wrong, but I believe the fellow who constructed this makeshift packaging is, in his own unique way, calling Microsoft "cheap." Now, why on earth would he say such a thing?
Lost Odyssey is here! I'm excited! It's been a month or so since I've played an RPG, so that makes me even more excited. Let me just say this: I hope Lost Odyssey is better than Blue Dragon. I'm not expecting it to be some sort of "Final Fantasy killer," but I hope that it improves on some of Blue Dragon's shortcomings, which mainly had to do with the story and characters. But then, I'm about 95% positive that it will, so I'm not too worried. Maybe someday, when I feel the need to hurt myself, I will return to Symphony of the Night. I doubt that will happen. To all you Castlevania fans out there: what exactly am I missing? Anything? Am I just a total moron, being unable to enjoy a game so revered as Symphony of the Night? Yeah, that's what I figured. (Sigh.)
I am off to brave Lost Odyssey for the first time. Farewell for now, and be sure to join me next week for more Currents!