Welcome to another issue of Currents, where video game industry headlines are broken down and editorialized. A new year means a fresh start in a lot of ways, but we're going to kick off 2014 by dwelling on the past. Last year was an interesting year in video game news, and a fair number of controversies went down as well. I propose we analyze some of the more interesting news pieces to come out of 2013. To get us in the mood, let's listen to a remix of an RPG favourite:
Below is a list of the most newsworthy and controversial headlines of the previous year. It isn't in any particular order, but I'd argue that these are the juiciest news bits. If there are any stories that struck a cord with you, please let us know in the forums.
THQ fell apart at the tail end of 2012, but we didn't see the full fallout of its liquidation until early 2013. The conclusion of this mega publisher's life took place with the final asset auction, and it wasn't without surprises. Gearbox Software bought the rights to the Homeworld franchise and 505 Games picked up Drawn to Life, but everyone was wondering what had happened to the Darksiders series. News had spread of Crytek forming a new Austin studio with 35 former Vigil Games employees. Crytek had also purchased the Homefront IP and there were rumours of the company's interest in picking up Vigil's lovechild. Surprisingly, the winning bidder for that beloved IP (and a number of others, including Red Faction, MX-ATV, and Destroy All Humans) was Nordic Games. Who is Nordic Games? It's essentially a licensor who is best known for helping to publish Alan Wake for PC. It's still hazy as to what the company plans to do with these new assets, but there is hope. Nordic Games' business and product development director Reinhard Pollice has expressed interest in some of THQ's more notable IPs as well as returning to the Deadly Creatures franchise. I expect we'll hear more in 2014.
I'm going to cut to the chase and make a sweeping declaration: DmC wasn't a terrible game. In fact, in a number of ways it could be seen as being good. There was a refined focus on dialogue and story, which many critics and fans alike have lauded as being better, and the game certainly looks spectacular. DmC may not have the exact technical prowess as its predecessors, but gameplay has still been noted by many as being fun and fluid. In fact, it's hard to find a lot of complaints with the game itself. Maybe that's because people didn't hate DmC for its quality so much as they did its identity. The folks at Ninja Theory sought to make something unique. It's just a shame that so many people are resistant to change. A number of the "fans" who hated DmC decided that they hated it before ever playing it, and many chose not to play it as a result. Call me judgemental, but I think it is really ignorant to hate something out of principle. You don't know until you try.
It was a sad day in entertainment journalism when our friends at 1UP, UGO, and GameSpy lost their jobs. Whether you were an original EGM subscriber who had migrated to the 1UP community or just a fan of good discussion, there were few better places to be than in this entertainment network. The staff of each site were professional and passionate. It truly is a shame to see their hard work fade into the ether of the internet. That said, I can't claim this wasn't unanticipated.
The sites had switched hands more than once, and it was fairly clear after the shakeup at IGN and the return to former owner Ziff-Davis that these niche entertainment sites weren't going to last. Still, we lost something great. There is, however, some good news here. Any 1UP regular will recognize the names of Jeremy Parish, Seanbaby, Kat Bailey, Ryan Scott, and Bob Mackey. These industry pros recently joined the staff of the successfully Kickstarted RETRO magazine. Oh, and did I mention that EGM's Sushi-X is onboard too? Maybe you should check it out.
It was a story of fan betrayal, press deceit, poor business ethics, and potential fraud. Yes — Aliens: Colonial Marines was an unpolished and unoriginal turd that seems as though it could have been a launch title for the original Xbox. Taking a glance at the game's stereotypical characters, by-the-numbers narrative, all-too-standard FPS UIs, and follow the waypoint mechanics, it's clear that Aliens: Colonial Marines was pretty damn bereft of fresh ideas. Worse, the story actively teabags any love fans may have left for the Aliens franchise. That wasn't the real controversy though.
I mean, sure, the game should have looked and played well after being delayed so many times, but why exactly did we think it was going to look and play well? Maybe it had something to do with the "real gameplay footage" Randy Pitchford paraded to the media, which turned out to be a complete fabrication. What he showed was not a game — it was a technical proof of concept. In fact, according to several former GearBox developers, not much actual progress had been made at that point. Instead, GearBox allegedly used the funds provided by SEGA for the game's development towards Borderlands 2. So... who in that case was responsible for Aliens: Colonial Marines? Even today, nobody is entirely sure.
Gearbox, TimeGate, Demiurge, and Nerve Software now appear to have each taken a certain percentage of the pie. While this kind of outsourcing was nothing new to the industry, gamers were led to believe that this would be a AAA Aliens title that expanded the universe and would be developed by the same team behind great FPS titles like Borderlands. Shame on us for believing, I guess.
Part of me is still surprised this console exists. I keep staring at it as though it were some elaborate April fools joke (which, isn't at all a slight against its quality). Weighing less than a 3DS XL and maintaining the same screen dimensions as the regular 3DS, the 2DS is Nintendo's first stab at a low-cost handheld in simultaneous release with their high-end flagship handheld (a strategy that some believe will be replicated by Apple in the next few weeks with their iPhones).
Unlike all Nintendo handhelds since the Game Boy Micro, the 2DS is not a clamshell device — opting to instead offer its dual screens on a tablet-like slate. Where it is low cost, there is no power-saving mode, the battery life is less impressive than the 3DS XL, and the speakers are now mono. Oh, and the console no longer has the ability to play titles in 3D — the initial selling point of Nintendo's current handheld generation.
The 2DS has sold well since successfully launching alongside the massively popular Pokémon X/Y, however, I still am saddened by the lost potential. You see, the system doesn't actually have two screens; any teardown will demonstrate that it has one, giant touchscreen. They covered the top half in plastic so you couldn't use it for touch control. Think about how cool it could have been to essentially have a Nintendo tablet. Oh, what could have been...
This is a real touchy subject. Essentially, Chloe Sagal attempted to fund a game called Homesick on Indiegogo. After a while, Chloe began claiming that the high goal for funding the project was actually because she was trying to fund surgery to remove a piece of metal that had been embedded into her body in a car accident, and that it was slowly poisoning her to death every day it was left in. Allistair decided to write a piece on her story that encouraged others to donate to her Indiegogo. Allistair kept up correspondence with Chloe Sagal and eventually Chloe considered him a friend. She then confided to him that the life-saving operation was actually false. She was in actuality attempting to gain funds for sexual reassignment surgery, and was a biological male. Sagal claimed that she would tell the truth about the fund, but never did.
Eventually, the fund was cancelled by Indiegogo on grounds of the site rules not allowing charities. Chloe went into a depression and allegedly attempted to kill herself on a livestream via pill overdose. Allistair, feeling guilty about not telling the truth earlier, decided to reveal that the fund was for SRS and thus not technically a life-saving operation. This provoked the ire of the LGBT community, who claimed that it was wrong of Allistair to "out" Chloe to the world. After receiving many complaints, Destructoid decided to place Allistair on suspension and he soon departed the site. Personally, I found this situation extremely frustrating. I certainly feel for Chloe's situation, and I hope she is doing well today, but it wasn't fair that his professional career was put in jeopardy because she willfully violated the trust of her supporters. I lost a lot of respect for Destructiod after the dust had settled.
It begins with an episode of Invisible Walls, a Game Trailers podcast, featuring a lengthy rant from Marcus Beer, commentating under the named "Annoyed Gamer." The podcast was discussing last years turn of events regarding Xbox One self-publishing, and how both Fish and Braid designer Jonathan Blow used Twitter to criticize the press for bothering both of them for quotes about what was, then, still a rumour coming from Game Informer about the news. Fish caught wind of Beer's comments, and exploded on Twitter. He insulted Beer's credentials, called him a masturbatory parasite, and followed by tweeting "compare your life to mine and then kill yourself." Fish continued to vocally express his displeasure, speaking more broadly about his feelings about people slinging crap his way, and the toll it takes on psyche. It ended with Fez II's abrupt cancellation, despite having been announced only a short time earlier.
To call this situation a fiasco would be putting it lightly. I'm not in the camp that believes that developers owe the media anything, or that we should be critical towards a person for how they've been portrayed in a movie and in interviews. I am, however, in the camp that thinks Phil Fish was acting like a total wang. He said a lot of nasty things about the media and gamers alike, and he's somehow surprised that he got so much online hate in return. The reality of being a well-known person in any medium is that you DO have to grin and bear both the positive and negative comments. That's the deal. If your response to criticism is going to be disrespectful, juvenile vitriol, then I don't honestly think you should be a part of this industry. Regardless of what Fez II might have been, I personally am glad Phil Fish is gone. He gave a lot of amazing indie developers a bad name with his actions.
Ah, Tropes vs Women in Video Games. This has been one of the most controversial things we've discussed this year. Yes — Anita Sarkeesian is on film publicly stating that she isn't a gamer and "finds no amusement in killing things with guns" (which is all we do, apparently) — and yes — she requested money for her research series after presenting herself as a gamer since the age of four. Take that as you will; that's not the real controversy here.
There generally are two camps on the internet which are very much against Anita's video game video series: (1) the camp that vocally disagrees with her research process, and (2) the camp that does a disservice to fellow gamers by flagging her videos, abusing her over twitter, and making men as a whole look like cavemen. There is some credence to the fact that this wasn't actually a "study" or "research process," as she only sought negative examples of video games that backed up her hypothesis and willfully ignored positive examples that clashed. That said, you'd have to be pretty ignorant to make the claim that women shouldn't be upset by how they've been portrayed in video games.
Female characters have a tendency to be portrayed as being unintelligent, victimized, infantilized, and sexualized. They are often underrepresented and are usually relegated to playing the part of the damsel in distress, the sexy sidekick, or background dressing. In fact, according to data gathered by Electronic Entertainment Design and Research in 2012, only 4% of 669 games surveyed had a female protagonist. We know, for fact, that this is a problem. Say what you will about Anita's flawed analysis, she's right about how women are presented. Stop saying she isn't.
This copyright fiasco has horrific implications for content creators, and it was a hypocritical move on Google's part to allow such a thing to happen. Under United States fair use law, multimedia content is allowed to be used and promoted by people who do not hold creative copyright, provided the content is that it is being used for criticism, comment, news reporting, education, scholarship, or research. To that extent, withholding advertisement funds from content creators who report, review, or promote new or old video games is an action which actively subverts American common law. Blocking videos or banning content creators is just as bad, if not worse, but there is something nefarious about claiming their advertising funds and giving them to copyright claiming organizations.
The Copyright Act of 1976 clearly indicates that organizations cannot cite infringement against people reviewing their products. So, why is this happening right now? Independent content creators have reviewed Super Mario 3D World a lot this past month. Does that mean that Nintendo should get 100% of the content creator's advertising profit? No. Especially considering that many content creators have turned YouTube video production into a full-time job. Nintendo and any other company that holds creative copyright shouldn't get to essentially charge a fee for someone to review their products.
In the history of entertainment, such a phenomenon has never happened until now. These content creators are people who, for the most part, go to GameStop and buy the products before they go onto YouTube to rant and review them, and yet copyright claimers are still grasping for a slice of the pie. They have no right to advertising money they didn't earn.
I wrote two editorials about Final Fantasy XV last year before throwing in the towel. At some point, you just have to accept that some people have an unwillingness to adhere to anything other than one, very particular perspective. That perspective being that an action RPG main entry in the Final Fantasy series is a very bad thing, and has the possibility to do damage to the entire franchise. I didn't really understand this point at the time, and I'm still struggling to get it now.
Not even ten whole minutes of Final Fantasy XV have been shown and the many denizens of the internet have already decided that Final Fantasy XV (a) is an action game and therefore any RPG elements will be downplayed, if present at all, and (b) will set a precedent for the rest of the Final Fantasy series. It's possible that these people will be correct on both assertions, but even six months later it's simply too early to say for certain. Not only is Final Fantasy XV clearly still in development, but it's kind of hard to make any statement on exactly what the game will be like and what kind of impact it will have before Final Fantasy XV is actually released.
Disregarding the facts that each numbered entry in the series sports its own unique feature and that change is one of the franchise constants, who are we to pass judgement on something that we've barely even seen? I can't say that it will be a good game, but can't say that it will be bad either. We all have to wait and actually PLAY Final Fantasy XV.
Conservative media pundits continue to point the finger squarely at video games every time a shooting occurs. According to Fox and Friend's Elizabeth Hasselbeck, what America really needs is a video game registry to track who is buying violent video games. You know, so the American government can watch you and ensure you don't kill dozens as a result of playing the latest Killzone. It probably sounds like profiling because it actually is profiling.
I can't believe I have to quote this, but she publicly asked the following: "Are more people susceptible to playing video games? Is there a link between a certain age group or [demographic] in 20- to 34-year-old men, perhaps, that are playing these video games and their violent actions? What about frequency testing? How often has this game been played? I'm not one to get in there and say, monitor everything, but if this, indeed, is a strong link, right, to mass killings then why aren't we looking at frequency of purchases per person? And also, how often they're playing and maybe they time out after a certain hour."
There isn't a strong link. There's barely a weak correlation. We know this as multiple studies since the early 90s have been done, and none of them have indicated otherwise without having biased research methodologies. In fact, the ONE study that purports to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects, by Dr. Craig Anderson, has been rejected by every court to consider it, and with good reason: it do not prove a causal relationship and features admitted flaws in practice. The "video games make you violent" comment is an ignorant one made by ignorant people. Stop bringing it up.
Ex-Microsoft creative director Adam Orth's comments are next on the list of "things you might not want to say in social media." Orth gained instant notoriety after defending Microsoft's old Xbox One online policies via Twitter, at a time when the company was still advocating the device as requiring a 24-hour online check-in. Less than a week later he had resigned his position and left the company.
"Sorry, I don't get the drama around having an 'always on' console," Orth had written. "Every device now is 'always on.' That's the world we live in. #dealwithit
I actually wish the #dealwithit comment was the worst of it, but he then compounded things with a host of subtly insulting allegories seemingly aimed at gamer intelligence. A few of the more notable tweets include: "Sometimes the electricity goes out. I will not purchase a vacuum cleaner." "The mobile reception in the area I live in is spotty and unreliable. I will not buy a mobile phone." and "@TheonlyAlexW Those people should definitely get with the times and get the internet. It's awesome." Unsurprisingly, a few people were upset by this.
Orth has since moved on to found a new studio and is working on their first game, which is great for him, but it doesn't change the fact that he's since become a recognized meme. Your comments in any public forum will always be seen; it's important that they have humility and respect instead of judgement and apathy. That's the lesson here.
"Guns make me safe, bigger guns make me safer." Oh, Blood Dragon. How I love thee. This "add-on" more than piqued my interest with its cybernetic arms, hilarious tutorials, gruff attitude, over-the-top guns, and NEON NEON NEON. That said, I was initially concerned that it wouldn't be anything more than an expansion to Far Cry 3. I couldn't have been more wrong.
Blood Dragon is an ode to everything rad about the 80s. Every level opens with a stellar keytar rift that will make you want to fall to your knees and beg for more. Its visual flare is firmly entrenched in the "20 minutes into the future" understanding of technological advancement, and the synth-inspired soundtrack, which was lovingly crafted by PowerGlove, solidifies Blood Dragon's nostalgically awesome environment. The FPS mechanics are finely tuned to modern expectations, but don't adhere to the exhausting Call of Duty play-style. Finally, Blood Dragon makes a point of taking the piss out of tutorial sequences, overly dramatic narratives, government regulations, and anything that isn't totally righteous.
Blood Dragon was one of the biggest surprises of 2013. I'd argue that it even surpasses Far Cry 3 in tone, gameplay, function, and style. It's one of the games in the PlayStation Network's 14 for 14 sale right now. If you're a PS plus member, you can pick it up for roughly $3. Go. Buy. Now.
It would be an understatement to say that the Xbox One had a shaky start. Initially displayed with a focus on television integration and not video gaming, the response to its demoing was lukewarm at best. Things only worsened when Microsoft began introducing archaic policies which were aimed at removing gamer autonomy and boosting new game profits.
Interestingly enough, Xbox One was designed to give publishers the option to curb used game purchases by requiring gamers to use a cloud-based licensing system. This system would have made trade-ins complicated at best and impossible at the publisher's discretion, leading to a substantial amount of negative feedback from the public. Xbox One was also designed to be "always on." If you didn't have an internet connection or happened to live outside of the 21 launch countries, tough nuggets — you don't get to play your $500 gaming device. After some negative feedback, this feature was altered to allow for "online spot-checks" which would take place every 24-hours. Much like their used game policy, this was seen by many as a step backwards.
Then E3 2013 happened. Sony's PlayStation 4 was presented as being more powerful on the inside, sexier on the outside, gaming-centric, playable offline, holding no restrictions against used games, and demanding $100 less. Sony's whole presentation seemed aimed at burying Microsoft in the hole they had been digging themselves into, and the PlayStation 4 didn't have too much trouble doing so. Granted, Sony could have hopped on the same bandwagon as Microsoft and reinforced these archaic restrictions. Thank goodness they didn't.
Microsoft predictably reversed its controversial Xbox One policies, "as a result of feedback from the Xbox community." There would be no a 24-hour online check, internet wasn't necessarily required for offline Xbox One games, and no longer would there be used game sharing limitations. It was a huge turn-around and was ultimately the best thing for the console, but that doesn't change the fact that the Xbox One experienced a year-long PR nightmare in 2013.
Is the Wii U going to kill Nintendo's console business? Will Nintendo accept that it's failed and become a software company like SEGA before them? Nintendo can get by on the 3DS's success for now, but will it discontinue the Wii U? Can the Wii U even recover at this point? Is anyone else tired of seeing these headlines everywhere? The console hasn't been doing great. That's no secret. In fact, Nintendo just slashed its sales expectations from 9 million to 2.8 million. I have no idea what is in store for the Wii U or Nintendo, but I'm feeling the fatigue of all the speculation that's out there. Can we stop talking about this for a while and just see how it plays out?
Disney executed Order 66 on LucasArts in 2013. The running statement from representatives is that the company is shifting gears from an internal development model to one that is purely licensing — the idea being that they can maximize Star Wars releases while mitigating the risks of traditional development. That said, a large amount of talented people (150, by Kotaku's count) were unemployed and the in-house development at this "active studio" is now effectively over. This move not only canceled Star Wars: 1313 and Star Wars: First Assault, but also marked the end of what was once one of the most innovative video game developers around.
EA has done a great job of screwing up new releases this year. SimCity was a catastrophe that launched with a busload of issues earlier this year. Many gamers were unable to connect to the overflowing servers, and those that could found the game to be nigh unplayable. The game was filled with glitches, bugs, and context-sensitive crashes. Part of this was due to a rushed launch, but the real problem was that it couldn't be played offline. This mind boggling decision neutered the experience and complicated everything. They've only now announced an offline mode, but I doubt it can save the game.
Battlefield 4 was undoubtedly one of the best first-person shooters of the fall. It's unfortunate though that it was also one of the most broken. The game has been plagued with issues, particularly on Xbox One and PS4. Server issues, glitches, game ejections, and more have helped ruin what was supposed to be a fantastic AAA FPS experience and as a result EA's stock has plummeted. According to a nameless QA tester at DICE, EA rushed through Battlefield 4's quality assurance phase to ensure the game would launch ahead of Call of Duty: Ghosts. Well, congrats to EA as it certainly has done that. It's just unfortunate that it's also damaged the Battlefield brand as well as DICE's reputation as a result.
Hilariously enough, EA was also named 'Worst Company in America' again this year by the Consumerist. Unlike other WCIA winners, EA has taken to publicly responding to its wins, but often in a tone that only served to make things worse. The company's new CEO has admitted that winning the Golden Poo twice in a row was a "wake up call," but that doesn't seem to affect any of its release strategies.
The Android-powered OUYA microconsole began its life on Kickstarter, where it became one of the most successful campaigns with over $8.6 million raised. The console saw its commercial release in June 2013, though it's unclear how many units have been sold to date. In fact, we haven't even heard that much about the system since, outside of the departure of co-founder Muffi Ghadiali. The OUYA seems destined to fade into obscurity at this rate.
Spike's VGX was a train wreck. There's no other way to put it. The hosting was cringeworthy, segments were terribly paced, awkward silence was present throughout, and awful stereotypes of what gamers are like were sprinkled over everything. I also couldn't look away. Geoff Keighley tried something new with this live-streaming format, but managed to lock in all the wrong guests for the event itself. He had no chemistry with shock comedian Joel McHale, the rappers from GTA V sounded terrible and gave GTA fans a bad name, and very few announcements were actually worth the viewer's time. To be blunt, 2013's VGX was atrocious and gamers everywhere deserve better.
That's it for this issue of Currents. You'll see another issue again in a couple weeks, but stay tuned to RPGamer for all the latest RPG news, reviews, previews, and interviews.
Your dork from the Great North,
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