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Spotlight: Games at E3

Spotlight: Games at E3

E3 tends to throw a lot of information––and games––at the public. D. Bethel has thoughts on a few of them.

Having been a console-first gamer my entire gaming life, I tend to pay close attention to the news and videos coming out of the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). At this point, I don’t get particularly hyped about the games that get announced (I hear people that hit social media after a press conference exclaiming, seemingly in earnest, “I NEED THIS GAME NOW!” Chill, dude) especially since few games shown at E3 anymore are surprises, having been announced months or years earlier. If anything, being a guy who is way into process, I’m excited to see what state these previously announced games are in and what kind of games they actually end up being. It’s like a big public presentation of the middle portion of the transition from idea to final product.

With that in mind, there a few games really stood out to me, with a few that may have slipped under the larger coverage of the show.

Ghost of Tsushima – Sucker Punch Studios (PS4) – Release TBA

The games I discuss in Shortcast 59 are only from the Sony press conference. Though I’ll be broadening my scope for this Spotlight, there was one game from Sony’s exhibition really got its hooks in me.

Sucker Punch is a studio with whom I’m nominally familiar. I never played the Infamous series of games, having been an Xbox 360 owner at the time of their release, but the idea intrigued me enough and the general response to the series was always positive, nor had I touched a Sly Cooper game as 3D platformers never really appealed to me despite the series’ general good regard among the community. With that said, I hold neither Sucker Punch nor their upcoming game, Ghost of Tsushima, to any metric aside from what they show of the game itself.

And what they showed of Ghost is fire.

In fact, it seems like a game made specifically for D. Bethel. According to Sucker Punch creative director, Nate Fox, Ghost is a wholly linear, narrative-focused game that takes the player through 13th century Japan in the midst of a war with the Mongols. With that, teenaged Dan, the Japanese history nerd, perked up. Additionally, it’s a historical samurai action game with no supernatural elements whatsoever as Sucker Punch aimed for “a grounded game.” Comicker D. Bethel, who’s making a western webcomic with no supernatural elements, perked up as well. Combined with the deliberate combat that looked similar (though let’s hope it’s not too similar) to Bushido Blade and Way of the Samurai, super gamer nerd Dan became invested.

Like with Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption before it, the idea of a AAA grounded historical game that isn’t simply a tactical war game nor an RPG seems like an avenue less explored by big studios; so to see Sucker Punch tackle it (and with Red Dead Redemption 2 out this October!), I’m definitely keeping my eye on this one where, before, it wasn’t in my field of vision at all.

Sable – Shedworks (PC only at the time of this announcement) – Late 2019

Here’s where I walk back my console cred and mention a PC game. E3 held what it called its “PC Gaming Show” that showcased upcoming PC games in the same manner that other press conferences showcased console-focused games. Tucked among those games was Sable, and I can’t believe it’s real.

Games––like any art––start with an idea; often, that idea can be rather abstract.

I’ve watched the trailer a few times and I know it’s a game, but I couldn’t tell you what kind of game it is yet. The visuals stunned me. Surely a lot of people are going to be calling this a “hand-drawn” game, which it obviously isn’t. Instead, it’s doing some high-level and artistic cell shading that eerily––EERILY––evokes the work of French cartoonist, Jean Giraud (aka Mœbius). Most accurately, it seems to be an homage to his long-running Métal hurlant (a magazine Giraud co-created and was published in the US as Heavy Metal) strip, Arzach.

Pages from the first appearance of Arzach in the pages of Métal hurlant (1975). Source: Humanoids Publishing.
An image from Mœbius’ Voyage d’Hermés series (2011), created for boutique clothing company, Hermés. source: Hermés

Created by the two-person UK developer, Shedworks, their main source of inspiration seems to be from the strides in open-world development that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild made than directly trying to interpret the work of Giraud into a video game space. Instead, the game apparently focuses more on the exploration and interaction with this breathtaking landscape rather than on RPG-like character growth and battle. Apparently, there’s no combat at all in the game, which is an intriguing proposition (No combat?! How is that even possible?!?!) that brought with it, to an extent, an internal sigh of relief. Finally, something different aside from just the visuals.

My joy doesn’t come from gleefully pointing out that this game seems to ape Mœbius’ style or comic at all––there’s no joy in that––but that this game vivifies his aesthetic perfectly. This must look like what the artist had in his head from which he could only capture still frames and arrange them on a page. Of all the games being written about, Sable genuinely gave me pause.

Sea of Solitude – Jo-Mei (PS4, XBox One, PC) – Early 2019

As an academic English person––albeit one who specialized in Composition and Rhetoric––whenever popular culture reveals a literary depth to it, it draws my attention with laser precision.

I heard on a podcast––sadly, I don’t remember which one, but probably Waypoint Radio––about a game shown during EA’s press conference that caught people off guard because Cornelia Geppert, the creative director of German indie studio, Jo-Mei, got surprisingly emotional and thoughtful when presenting the game, Sea of Solitude.

While “getting emotional” seems to be a highly subjective term––Geppert comes across as more nervous and genuinely excited to show off her game at the largest gaming trade show in the United States––her candor with the game’s themes and what they are trying to say with the game surprised me more.

A major argument in the discourse around games is that they are superficial entertainment, escapist power-fantasy exercises and that’s the baseline level of appreciation for them. Some even argue that such an angle should be our only appreciation of them (“Keep politics out of games!” “Keep your X agenda out of games!” “Games should be more like they were before!” etc.).

The problem with that is games are made by people who think very hard about their games. Like with any creative product (or any product), the consumer doesn’t usually see the majority of effort that went into making it. That’s part of why we are so quick to offer hot takes on games, movies, comics, toys, videos, etc. We are reacting to the product put in front of us, not seeing the complex web of thought, ability, and troubleshooting behind the shiny veneer. To an extent, good games look effortlessly made.

Games––like any art––start with an idea; often, that idea can be rather abstract. This has become more visible as creators have been more vocal with their process. From Hideo Kojima’s thematic and increasingly abstract approach to his Metal Gear Solid series to the small and decisively personal games like Brothers and Papo y Yo, consumers are seeing the level of critical and artistic effort creators put into their games.

Usually we hear these things after a game’s release. That Jo-Mei presented their literary ambition first, before the trailer, partly illustrates why I liked their segment of the press conference so much. This seems like a huge step forward for the developer whose previous games don’t seem like anything that really broke through to the larger critical discussion.

Luckily, the game looks stylish and fun––like LIMBO or INSIDE crossed with a post-apocalyptic anime––I’m excited because it piqued my academic interests while also being a game that––superficially––looks like it’ll be a fun time.

––––

E3 has been particularly exciting this year. After a year or two of the industry being hit hard by extreme successes (2017 was an outstanding year for games) and existential dilemmas (voice actor strike, labor issues, continuing GamerGate behavior), seeing good games at the show as well as developers tackling some of these issues (both positively and negatively) head on puts this E3 ahead in a lot of ways. At the very least, we get good games out of the static as developers, journalists, and players try to move the medium forward and upward.

Shortcast 55 – Occam’s Complexifier

Shortcast 55 – Occam’s Complexifier

THE SIDE OF THE FAMILY WE DON’T TALK ABOUT: While D. Bethel and Andrew went into recording with the idea they’d do a Week in Geek episode, D.’s offering (Sarah Gadephe’s Shy Boys: IRL documentary) got them off on a wildly different tangent that discusses nerds, politics, sex, and entitlement in the wake of the Toronto attack and this strange comic book controversy involving Antarctic Press and a comic made by a group of less-than-friendly creators.

RELEVANT LINKS:

  • Shy Boys: IRL by Sara Gadephede

WORKS CITED:

WORKS CONSULTED:

INFO:

For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.

FEATURED MUSIC:

-“District Four” by Kevin McLeod (incompetech.com)*
-“Disco Medusae” by Kevin McLeod (incompetech.com)*
*Tracks are licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Shortcast 47 – The Finest in Lottery Scratcher Technology

Shortcast 47 – The Finest in Lottery Scratcher Technology

WEEK IN GEEK: After weeks away, Andrew and D. Bethel return to talking about the geeky stuff they’ve done in the last week. Andrew plays Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 and is much surprised considering his views on the first game. D. Bethel dives into a different kind of legacy by looking at the first volume of All-New Wolverine as Laura Kinney (formerly X-23) takes the mantle of “Wolverine” from her (at the time) deceased…uh…father? Brother? Twin? Whatever. #comics

Also––a News Blast breaking story about All-New Wolverine and its cancellation announcement made this week.

RELATED EPISODES:

RELATED LINKS:

INFO:

For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.

FEATURED MUSIC:

-“District Four” by Kevin McLeod (incompetech.com)*
-“Disco Medusae” by Kevin McLeod (incompetech.com)*
*Tracks are licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Shortcast 46 – Wakandan Skip Fires

Shortcast 46 – Wakandan Skip Fires

BLACK PANTHER: Andrew and D. have both finally seen the newest Marvel Cinematic entry, Black Panther, and dive into the aspects of the movie that stood out for them, especially with respect to nerd culture, pop culture, and culture at large. This conversation does discuss SPOILERS for the film, so consider yourself duly warned.

WORKS CITED:

  • Trevor Noah talks about African accents in Black Panther with Chadwick Boseman on The Daily Show (bookmarked for that specific topic, but watch the whole interview):

  • Trevor Noah in The Daily Show‘s “Between the Scenes” segment where he talks about Black Panther:

 

  • Waypoint 101: Black Panther.Waypoint. VICE Media, 28 Feb. 2018. – Podcast where the staff of VICE’s Waypoint have a thoughtful look at Black Panther. (Warning: Contains SPOILERS.)

RELATED EPISODES:

RELATED LINKS:

INFO:

For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.

FEATURED MUSIC:

-“District Four” by Kevin McLeod (incompetech.com)*
-“Disco Medusae” by Kevin McLeod (incompetech.com)*
*Tracks are licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Shortcast 43 – The # Age

Shortcast 43 – The # Age

WEEK IN GEEK: This week, Andrew and D. start with a little Black Panther talk––friend of the show, Kyrun Silva, went on Good Day Sacramento to talk about what the character has meant to him as an independent comic creator––before Andrew discusses the complex but fun fantasy board game, Gloomhaven, while Dan watches the short but effective AMC comic book documentary series, Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics.

RELATED EPISODES:

RELEVANT LINKS:

  • Check out the website for Gloomhaven‘s developer, Cephalofair (the company name for Isaac Childres), and scroll down to see all the writing he has done about the process of making the game.

INFO:

For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.

FEATURED MUSIC:

-“District Four” by Kevin McLeod (incompetech.com)*
-“Disco Medusae” by Kevin McLeod (incompetech.com)*
*Tracks are licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Shortcast 40 – Shortcast Your Mom

Shortcast 40 – Shortcast Your Mom

WEEK IN GEEK – COMIC BOOK TV SHOW EDITION: Andrew tunes in to the CW’s newest superhero premiere––Black Lightning––while D. Bethel looks back at the first season of Fox’s The Gifted. SPOILER WARNING

RELATED EPISODES:

RELEVANT LINKS:

INFO:

For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.

FEATURED MUSIC:

-“District Four” by Kevin McLeod (incompetech.com)*
-“Disco Medusae” by Kevin McLeod (incompetech.com)*
*Tracks are licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Episode 152 – My Own Finger

Episode 152 – My Own Finger

WEEK IN GEEK: Having missed last week’s Week in Geek, Andrew and D. Bethel decide to…skip it again so they can spend as much time with––

THE STATE OF THE DCEU-NION: Returning to the show is the resident DC expert, Taylor Katcher, to talk about 2017 in DC––movies, tv, and comics.

RELATED EPISODES:

WORKS CITED:

INFO:

For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.

FEATURED MUSIC:

-“Disco Medusae” by Kevin McLeod (incompetech.com)*
-“District Four” by Kevin McLeod (incompetech.com)*
*Tracks are licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Shortcast 39 – Holidaycast 01

Shortcast 39 – Holidaycast 01

WEEK IN GEEK: To ring in the holidays, Andrew and D. Bethel take the time to bring you another Week in Geek Shortcast. This week, Andrew plays Greenheart Games’ Game Dev Tycoon on iOS (after having previously played it on Steam), while D. talks about the interesting time-travel, existential narrative of the Jean Grey limited series from Marvel.

RELATED EPISODES:

RELEVANT LINKS:

  • The new Dan & Rusty Video Game Power Hour that went up this week, featuring Deadpool (kind of, not really) and Battle Chasers.

INFO:

For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.

FEATURED MUSIC:

-“District Four” by Kevin McLeod (incompetech.com)*
-“Disco Medusae” by Kevin McLeod (incompetech.com)*
*Tracks are licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Shortcast 36 – Caca Fats

Shortcast 36 – Caca Fats

THE STATE OF SUPERHERO CINEMA (AND TV): With so much superheroic media out there right now, and with Marvel, DC, and Fox swinging wildly on both the large and small screens, Andrew and D. Bethel take a look at how things are sorting out, how they’ve changed over the last year or so, and where things might go.

RELATED EPISODES:

LINKS:

INFO:

For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.

FEATURED MUSIC:

-“Thunder Busters” by Wax Audio

Shortcast 33 – National Character Counts

Shortcast 33 – National Character Counts

WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew plays the expansive new Star Trek board game by Gale Force Nine Games, Star Trek: Ascendancy, while D. gets knee-deep into the sequel to the short-lived, but beloved, comic book series, Battle Chasers. However, the sequel is a video game, not a comic, in Battle Chasers: NightWar by Airship Syndicate. (Full Disclosure: D. was a backer on the Battle Chasers: NightWar Kickstarter campaign.)

And here is the promised narrative summary of the game of Star Trek: Ascendancy that Andrew played, written by Tim Saito:

In the Romulan capital city, on the planet Romulus, Praetor Nat’al looks out across the sea of screaming and crying faces. “Riov Lovok, what happened?”

“It’s the war sir.  I believe we have lost it,” replied Riov Lovok.

“How?  And why are all those people screaming and crying?”

“It’s the parents of the children.  All the parents of ALL the children,” said Lovok as she lowered her head.

“What was done to our children!?”

“It was the Ferengi, sir. They sold a toy to a few of the children last week. The following day they sold more, but at a higher price. Since then, each day the price goes higher and higher and fewer and fewer are available. Something called a Tamagotchi. Now all the children want one and all the parents are desperate. Order is falling away and there are riots in the streets as roving mobs of parents search out the elusive Tamagotchi.”

“The Ferengi?”

“Yes, Preator. Word has come through that the Federation has fallen to the Ferengi as well, to something called a Tickle Me Elmo.”

“We underestimated these Ferengi.”

“Yes. The Cardassians have also submitted their surrender to the Grand Nagus on Ferenginar. They were destroyed by something called a Furby.”

“We will mount an attack. Launch a fleet of ships and attack Ferenginar under cloak. They won’t see it coming and we will take their home world from them!”

“It’s too late,” said Riov Lovok as she pulled her disruptor from its holster. “I was promised TWO Elmos, four Furbys, and five Tamagotchis IF I delivered you to the Ferengi.”

RELATED EPISODES:

  • Episode 40 – “Vowel Movement”: Where Andrew discusses playing the board game, Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem, a previous game made by Gale Force Nine Games. Ironically, Episode 40’s discussion topic is about sequels that come years after the original entry, and this week D. talks about playing Battle Chasers: Nightwar, and ostensible sequel to the comic series that ended in 2001.
  • Episode 128 – “His Curry Name”: Where D. Bethel talks about reading the series rebooting Jim Lee’s ’90s Wildstorm continuity with The Wild Storm by Warren Ellis and Jon Davis-Hunt.

RELEVANT LINKS:

  • News Blast: Star Trek Fan Films: Where Andrew discusses the legal ramifications of CBS/Paramount coming down on the large community of Star Trek fan films.

INFO:

For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.

FEATURED MUSIC:

-“Stayin’ in Black” by Wax Audio