E3 and voting with your wallet

E3 is over but the dust isn’t going to settle for a while. Huge surprising announcements, an overall thread of game developers and platform holders making more and more effort to listen to consumers and a few disappointments.

Microsoft had an overall vibe of “games, games, games!” like a slightly faded carnival barker who has noticed that nobody is an interested in them as they once were. It’s the right move to make and hopefully for them it won’t be too little too late. The Rare game collection shows an understanding of what fans want. Although the Yooka Laylee Kickstarter total suggests that that particular ship may have already sailed.

There’s no doubt that Sony have knocked it out of the park. They’re back on top and a long way from the company that were trailing behind the 360 at the start of the last generation. It feels like PS2, take two, and they know it. PlayStation Plus continues to bring great indie games to a broad audience, month after month and represents a superb and rich ecosystem of creative experiences. Finally bringing news of The Last Guardian, delivering the hugely sought after Final Fantasy VII Remake and being the ones to reveal the Shenmue 3 Kickstarter placed their presentation in the realms of “pinch me, I must be dreaming” moments. Don’t get me wrong. All three of those games will almost certainly not live up to the expectations but, for the moment they were revealed, it was the most glorious thing that has ever happened to the human race. Fact.

And that’s what E3 is all about. In the run up to the event, every year, Google must be bursting at the seams with the numbers of searches for “greatest/more memorable e3 moments”. It’s no mistake that the event is in Los Angles. Understand that this is the Hollywood movie of gaming events. It’s all about promise and excitement. Delivering on the promise can and usually does wait for another day, or not happen at all.

Nintendo don’t seem to quite get that. Their presentation was charismatic and solid but failed to deliver a single jaw dropping moment. Which is odd. Particularly when you consider the amazing things that have been revealed during their adhoc Nintendo Directs. The moment when they revealed Bayonetta 2, during a Direct in September, remains one of the most amazing and unpredictable pieces of video game marketing I have ever seen. It was sublime. And in September. A month that everyone hates. Fact.

So it’s clear that they can bring the big guns when they want to and they’re a savvy operation. Their E3 Direct just felt like they were holding back. It’s like they know how big the other companies are going to bring it, so rather than compete they just phone it in. It feels like a contractual obligation being grudgingly fulfilled when they’d be better of not bothering at all.

In the wake of Nintendo’s lack luster (yeah, I said it) E3 Direct there’s been some real hatred and anger floating around Twitter. Unusual, I know.

But this anger seemed centered around one particular game, Metroid Prime: Hasn’t Got Samus In It Edition or whatever it’s called. It seemed remarkable enough of a situation that I felt the urge to put finger to keyboard and dust of the blog. As ever there are two camps, ones shouting for the cancellation of the game and the other shouting at that group for being “entitled” and saying they should “vote with their wallets” by simply not buying the game.

Now then.

Let’s talk about this like grown ups, eh?

Voting with your wallet works both ways. The general vibe from the “Stop Being Entitled” camp is that consumers should simply ignore games that they don’t like. In the hope of what? That the game will fail? That the company will fail? That by a process of elimination the developer should figure out what games you like by a series of failures? I think that’s what happened to the Dreamcast and I’m not sure it’s been working out for SEGA ever since.

So what about voting with your wallet in a positive way. Buying games to support a game developer in a way that signifies your interest in a certain type of game in the hope that they will make more of that. Do we really think that negative reinforcement is better than positive? The relationship between a consumer/video game fan and their beloved developer is complex and deep. In essence, we don’t want to see them fail, we want them to succeed while making games that provide life changing joy.

For those who deeply care about video games this is not a hobby, it’s not a passion, it is their life. We need to appreciate the emotions that are attached to video games are just as deep as those that run within sports fans. Let us also not forget that it is that passion that moves the wheels of the video games industry. From the creation process and the long hours involved to the kind of motivation that drives someone to commit hard earned cash on Kickstarter for a game that, if history teaches us anything, my never see the light of day at all.

But for some reason “entitlement” is the new insult to sling at gaming fans while side by side, game companies try to build communities. Trust me, when Ubisoft is trying to build a “community” for their latest game, they want your feedback and your money. They’re not going to come round and redo your bathroom if you’ve had a leak. If gamers feel entitled to games that they want it’s just as reasonable as development houses feeling entitled to have an audience and a paycheck for the games they create. You can’t have one without the other.

So let’s talk about some examples of positive voting with your wallet.

I love Beyond Good and Evil. I want Beyond Good and Evil 2 to happen. Beyond Good and Evil was not a financial success so I know this is less likely to happen.

So what do I do?

I buy absolutely everything that Michel Ancel has anything to do with. I bought the original Beyond Good and Evil on multiple platforms. I bought the HD remake on day one at full price. I’ve bought Rayman Origins and Legends multiple times. I really really really want to make even a minute difference to the decision making for that sequel to get greenlit. Gimme more Jade doggamit!

And it’s silly. It’s almost certainly not going to make any impact with me doing it by myself. But I feel like I’m doing my bit. So, if after all that, Ubisoft announced a Beyond Good and Evil MOBA, I think I might be tempted to rage quit life itself.

Second example. I adored Sleeping Dogs. It came out of the blue for me and became one of my favourite games of all time. I bought a copy day one, bought my brother a copy to show him how amazing it was and a few years later he returned the favour by getting me the PS4 special, redone, prettified, HD version, whatever it was called. And that game sold well. So…more please?

No. Have a free to play, no story, online only, PC game.

Thanks for buying three copies on Sony platforms. We’ve heard you loud and clear. Here’s what we’re going to make!

Miserable.

Is it unreasonable for me to feel disappointed?

I’d vote with my wallet by not paying for it but it’s free to play anyway. Also, having Triad Wars fail doesn’t benefit me at all. I don’t want United Front Games to fail. I want them to succeed in making more story driven, open world games, like the one I feel in love with them for making.

It feels like there’s a disconnect. Between the message that was clearly sent by collective enthusiasm and buying patterns to the actions that a development team take. That’s why you start to see that phrase “Nobody asked for this” banded around at times like these. Now, sure enough, the creative process is much more complex than that. Hell, nobody asked for Sleeping Dogs in the first place, which is why it took so long to get finished and went through about three different lives before releasing.

Sometimes we just have to trust that the game makers are doing the right thing.

But when they don’t and there is a clear direction a large number of fans want a company to go in. And they don’t. It feels like that company is “out of touch.” And it’s frustrating.

So when I bought the Metroid Prime Trilogy, rereleased on Wii U, day one, I was hoping to send a clear message. The message didn’t quite seem to get through.

To a large amount of people on the outside, it is clear that there is a desire for a new Metroid Prime game. This is not, apparently clear to Nintendo. It seems that if it were clear to Nintendo they would either:

  1. Start creating said game
  2. Not create a game that feels like nothing to do with the previous games and slap the brand on it

Speaking personally I would be happier with neither happening, rather than what did. Which almost certainly makes me “entitled.” In my mind, I just happen to think that brands matter.

On the day Nintendo announce a version of Mario Kart with no multiplayer and you’ll be able to see where I’m coming from.

So what’s the answer?

Coming back to Sony, it’s probably best to ask Gio Corsi. The man who made The List. The man who brought Yakuza 5 to the west, based on the votes that he was given. The company that is bringing the long requested Final Fantasy VII Remake and is highlighting the already hugely successful Shenmue 3 Kickstarter.

Voting matters. Having a voice matters. “Voting with your wallet” by not buying a game is bullshit and doesn’t get anyone anywhere.

So with nothing to vote for in a positive way, folks will vote in anger.

Game developers need to give their fans a channel to share that voice positively or they will use it negatively.

That energy, that passion, that love, has to go somewhere.

Nintendo has already proven that they can use feedback from the fans well. The Smash Bros roster campaign lead to the hugely well received addition of Ryu and has built excitement for more.

Maybe it’s time to do that for their other franchises.

Maybe we should just trust them.

Maybe we don’t trust them enough anymore.

Maybe we should all stop wasting our energy on this, bang more of our time into indie game development and spend the next few years making the best 3D, metroidvania, Prime-a-like game in our own universe and then bang it up on Kickstarter.

There’s clearly a gap in the market…

Mark’s Monday Mystery #001

Welcome to the first edition of Mark’s Monday Mystery.

The game is simple. I, Mark, newest member of Almost Games, will present you with a mystery image.

You, in the style of a contestant from TV’s gameshow ‘Catchphrase’ simply need to Say What You See.

Answers in the comments please!

 

8 things games don’t understand about men that aren’t tall, fit, clean shaven and handsome

The world of gaming is dominated by heroes who are strong, tall, muscular, toned men. They are usually handsome and clean shaven, although designer stubble is allowed, rarely is your hero a short, wide, bearded gentleman of a more homely persuasion.

So what roles do we, the average man, get to play in video games: The killers, the enemies, the idiots, the side characters or the comic relief. It’s about time we set this straight.

1. We’re not all overcompensating

So, Borderlands 2 finally gets a short, hairy, stock character and he’s a gunzerker? So what are you trying to tell us, games? Are you suggesting that all short men are angry? That all stocky men with facial hair are mindless killers? Oh, and what a surprise, he’s the character who likes to carry around big heavy guns, two at a time. Are you telling me we are all overcompensating for something?

2. We don’t all drown children

****SPOILERS***

Heavy Rain, features an overweight character. He’s not the most handsome man in the world but he seems nice enough. Scott Shelby, it turns out, is the Origami Killer. The antagonist of the whole story, happens to be an overweight man? What happened? Did someone jump infront of him at the queue for KFC? Years of being rejected by attractive women drove him to drown small boys? Well…no. His motivations are pretty well explained in the game itself BUT come on, did I have to be the fatty? What about the handsome family man, or the slick looking FBI agent? God forbid the morally nebulous female character be the killer. Oh no. Fatty McDrownkids…Prime Suspect.

3. We aren’t all mad bombers who skate round slipping over on bird shit

So, Fatman from Metal Gear Solid 2…I don’t even know where to begin…

4. We aren’t all employed as manual labourers who are cruel to animals

Mario? Mario? Don’t even get me started on that little shit. Jumping on turtles, gathering up all the loose change he can find, wearing his work clothes wherever he goes? So we of the belly and face fuzz don’t know how to dress? Or is it because he’s just a plumber that he doesn’t have the spare cash to go out and buy some new threads? What you tryna say Nintendo? All the fatties are money grabbing blue collar workers? The fact that he has killer side burns and a sweet fanny tickling mustache isn’t enough to make him a great guy? You have to make him a selfish, avaricious, animal torturer.

5. We’re not soul stealing ancient magicians

Ok, Tsang Tsung is quite lithe but he is definitely not a pretty boy, he has a sweet beard and stache combo and uses flowing clothes to hide his body insecurities. In short, he’s my kinda guy. So what is he? A heroic warrior destined to protect those around him? Or is he, in fact, a complete twat who actually absorbs people’s souls in his bid to stay alive for even longer and continue to kill of the beautiful heroic people…

Let’s review the characters from the original Mortal Kombat

Johnny Cage, buff and clean shaven – hero
Lui Kang, buff and clean shaven – hero
Raiden, tall, clean shaven and blue eyed – An actual god
Kano, bearded – evil
Tsang Tsung – evil

Now, I get the argument that women get a “token” female character in the form of Sonya but let’s face it, of the above group, the ones who mostly closely represent me are the evil monstrous ones.

6. We’re not trying to take over the world

One of my favourite series of all times is the Legend of Zelda. Let’s look at the triangle of characters in that particular story. Think of the protagonist, tall, fit, blond, handsome and blue eyed. Zelda is a strong character showing intellectual and physical prowess in a number of different areas, combining magical skills, ninja like powers along with an excellent understanding of monarchistic politics. Ganondorf, the sickest, village destroying, no respect for anything, hell bent on ruling the world and general piece of shit, is in possession of some of the finest facial hair every to grace video games. And he’s ginger. Take that representation and make something positive out of it…

And he always loses. Not only is Ganondorf a complete monster but he never ever ever ever wins. So he’s an incompetent bastard as well. Maybe if he dyed his hair and shaved the face furniture then he could be the hero of time. You just never know.

7. We’re not evil pirates who transcend the mortal realm to continue our reign of terror

Guybrush Threepwood is blond and slender. He occasionally has stubble (Monkey Island 2) or a small neat beard (Tales of Monkey Island) but is generally, particularly for a mighty pirate, surprisingly clean cut. Of course he gets the girl, saves the day and uses a rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle without trouble. What about Le Chuck? The most evil pirate that point and click games have ever seen. Big. Effing. Beard.

8. We’re not emotionally crippled buffoons with anger management issues

Another one of my favourite gaming series, Dead Or Alive. A lot has been said about its representation of women but let’s look at the way non-traditionally handsome, bearded and generally chunky men are dealt with. Sure you’ve got your Hayabusa, Jahn Lee and Hayate/Ein, generally very fit, clean shaven men and (excepting some clan related niggles) all heroic figures. So what about the flip side, what about the man that I associate with? Bass. Bass is a glorious figure of a man, big beard, big body, clearly not a stranger to a pint and pie. And he’s a fecking tool. He is repeatedly shown as incompetent, easily fooled and stupid. During the ending of Dead Or Alive 3 his beloved motorbike breaks down. Does he ring the AA, move to a safe, off road location and amuse himself in the meantime, happy to be deprioritised behind any women who might have had a breakdown, with some ever enjoyable sudoku? No, he picks up his slightly broken down bike and suplexes it, breaking it even more. What a bellened.

A question of perspective

Woke up early this morning and watched the trailer for Metro: Last Light. A couple of things occurred to me:

1. The environments, atmosphere and characterisation are awesome
2. I would watch a whole movie like this
3. This is not 1st person perspective, this is POV

The first point is great news for 4AGames and THQ, I will probably spend now until release date extolling the virtues and my chest tightening excitement for this game.

The second point I was not expecting at all. I hate television with a fiery passion. I seem to have a real problem with passive entertainment. After years of gaming I can honestly say that I would rather be playing than watching. So this was a new development for me. Which leads me onto my final revelation.

Don’t get me wrong, Metro: Last Light looks to be an exciting departure from the drudgery of many, so called “First Person Shooters” but it will, inevitably still be labelled as a member of modern gaming’s largest genre. But this term is a misnomer, there is no first person perspective being displayed here. What we are seeing is the world through someone else’s POV, their point of view, not their perspective.

Their perspective is dictated by their comments, their personality and how they see the world. We are along for the ride, sitting in the cinema inside the characters head, pulling levers to shoot and move but essentially following a greater story.

To explain this further, let’s look at the Quantic Dream games. Within Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophesy you play as multiple characters in connected situations on either side of the law. Sometimes you play as the killer and sometimes as either of the detectives. This gives you, in essence, multiple perspectives to view the story from. More than that you actually form your own perspective, that of an omniscient narrator who has access to the combined knowledge of all the characters. To call this game a 3rd person adventure just because the camera angles are not fixed within a characters head is a ridiculous simplification.

Next example on the block is Bioshock. Consider yourself *SPOILER* warned from this point on.

As the game progresses you hear the voice of Atlas, a seemingly helpful chap who points you in the right direction and provides background history on what has happened in Rapture as well as the current situation. That and sounding like the offspring of a U2 groupie but that’s beside the point. So, through the game we are playing with a POV camera but what perspective are we playing through?

The clever dicks amongst you might think, “AHA! This is clearly a real example of a first person perspective game, given that everything we understand is what we hear and see”. But what about when many things are proven to be false, have we not been tricked by an unreliable narrator? And if the narrator has been telling us the story the whole time and shaping our understanding of the world around us, is this not actually a second person, anecdotal game?

The Prince of Persia: Sands of Time used a similar technique to superb effect to deal with death and save games. Upon dying during gameplay the Prince, in voiceover, would remark “No, no, no. That’s not what happened.” Allowing you to return to an earlier point in the game as if the whole diegesis was taking place as part of your imagination of his anecdote. It is clear by the end of the game that this story was being told to Farah. Are we therefore, not her? If so then the story is all the more fantastic as it was told to us from an acquaintance from an alternate reality that we have not experienced. The feeling is sublime but we have no language to describe this story telling in the games industry because we have wasted it on camera angles.

As trailers for Remember Me are surfacing, showing the powers of perception, memories and thought I am reminded that this medium can be a powerful way to tell stories. Perhaps if we can recapture poorly used terminology we can discuss games in more erudite terms and reach the next level of gameplay experience and story telling not just graphical capability.

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