WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew starts rewatching Star Trek: The Next Generation on Bluray while Dan finally opens up about Mass Effect: Andromeda now that he has finished the game.
THE LAST GRIPE: The video game expo, E3, always has its share of stories, reveals, and, most recently, at least, controversy. Tim Soret, founder of the studio Odd Tales, scored a coup by getting to go onstage during Microsoft’s pre-E3 press conference and talk about his game, The Last Night, and how it would be an exclusive to the company and its new powerhouse console, the XBox One X. However, Soret has a dicey history with gamers, and his pro-GamerGate and anti-feminist tweets were brought to light despite happening years ago. He has even said that The Last Light was created as a statement on feminist ideology. However, at E3, he apologized on stage for his stances. Should he be forgiven? Should he be held accountable? Should we play his game? Dan and Andrew discuss this static caused between art and artist.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew starts a Starbound server and learns about the administrative side of online multiplayer gaming while D. helps to make a game better by playing the PS4 beta release of Marvel Heroes Omega.
FAR CRYING: The trailer and promotional artwork for Ubisoft’s Far Cry 5 has inflamed a certain demographic of gamers, or has it? Our humble hosts investigate this conundrum.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew plays catch-up after the Guestcast by letting us know about his time with the indie game, Turmoil, as well as discussing his experience with Alton Brown’s live show, Eat Your Science, while Dan talks about reboots and his hesitancy going into the first two issues of DC Comics’ new series, The Wild Storm.
MASS REJECTS: As Andrew reported, the new Bioware game, Mass Effect Andromeda, has met with a lot of criticism. However, said criticism is all over the map. Dan and Andrew get deep talking about expectations, Mass Effect, fandoms, and video games as cultural expressions. WARNING: the hosts get a little worked up.
This week saw the release of the long awaited “next title” in Bioware’s popular Mass Effect series: Mass Effect: Andromeda. For any number of reasons, Dan and I are far from the “cutting edge” of video game playing; I have no plans to play the game soon and Dan will start playing it this week.
That being said, the game has attracted its fair share of reviews, commentaries, and discussions. A lot of the internet is abuzz over the game, with many reviews acknowledging the games strengths but also admitting a healthy share of weaknesses. Erik Kain from Forbes even called it the “worst-reviewed game in the franchise.”
Mass Effect: Andromeda is an expansive action role-playing game with a few great moments that recapture the high points of the landmark trilogy that came before it, and energetic combat and fantastic sound effects contribute to a potent sci-fi atmosphere. Without consistently strong writing or a breakout star in its cast to carry it through the long hours and empty spaces, however, disappointments like a lack of new races, no companion customization, and major performance problems and bugs take their toll.
The plot and structure of Mass Effect: Andromeda can be viewed as a metaphor for the game itself, where a population eager for a fresh start makes a leap into a new frontier. The destination isn’t the paradise we hoped for. For our characters, Andromeda required a leap of faith, the belief that the universe must hold more for humanity. Nobody anticipated how much work building a new home would really take, and in a way, the entire game is about mitigating everyone’s disappointment. The truth is that Andromeda itself isn’t the promised land players hoped for either, but there is a lot that’s good in this flawed new frontier for Mass Effect.
Let’s be clear: I’m conflicted about Mass Effect: Andromeda. There’s a lot of roughness throughout the game, and the technical issues, while not game-breaking, are often incredibly distracting. But it’s my time with the cast that I’m still thinking about, and the mysteries about the world that haven’t been answered that make me feel like I’m waiting once again for a new Mass Effect game. And if I’m judging a game by where it leaves me, Andromeda succeeds, even if it stumbled getting there.
Being both a sort of prequel and sequel to the original Mass Effect trilogy, it’s understandable that there would be both excitement and trepidation regarding the changes made to the venerated series. However, in at least one case, dissatisfaction with the game has taken a rather dark turn.
Kotaku‘s Ethan Gach reports that Allie Rose-Marie Leost, a woman who worked for EA Games in the motion-capture labs and had been associated with Mass Effect: Andromeda, was the victim of a series of online harassment and threats. Some people appear to be discontent with the animations in the game, somehow identified Leost as a lead animator, and are holding her responsible. The harassment ranges from threats of sexual assault to accusations of her providing sexual services in order to get her job.
After the initial onslaught began, Bioware decided to try and take action to rectify the situation by tweeting that somebody who had been “misidentified as a lead member” of the team was not, in fact, a lead member. It also clarified that she was no longer an employee of EA Games. This has been met with mixed responses from media websites and fans.
More recently, former Mass Effect animator Jonathan Cooper took to Twitter to both oppose attacks made against members of the development team and discuss some of the methods used in animation development. Pointing out the expansiveness of a project like Andromeda and the time limitations associated with the development cycle, his comments provide context for how a few of the more prominent animation mistakes have become the signature video for the game.
First though; going after individual team members is not only despicable, but the culprits and choice of target revealed their true nature. Just as we credit a team, not an individual, for a game’s success, we should never single out one person for a team’s failures. That said, animating an RPG is a really, really big undertaking – completely different from a game like Uncharted so comparisons are unfair. Every encounter in Uncharted is unique & highly controlled because we create highly-authored ‘wide’ linear stories with bespoke animations. Conversely, RPGs offer a magnitude more volume of content and importantly, player/story choice. It’s simply a quantity vs quality tradeoff. In Mass Effect 1 we had over 8 hrs of facial performance. In Horizon Zero Dawn they had around 15. Player expectations have only grown. As such, designers (not animators) sequence pre-created animations together – like DJs with samples and tracks.
How all of this will affect the game (and, potentially, the critical response) remains to be seen. It does also, however, touch on the growing conversation around the status of high-profile, triple-A games being released in increasingly hobbled conditions (commonly decried as being “unfinished“), requiring either day one patches or, after vociferous fan and critical response, releasing one as soon as possible. Where Mass Effect: Andromeda falls in that conversation is unknown, but time (and sales) may yet tell.
A large talk that basically started the whole GamerGate mess had to do with representation in video games, specifically with how female characters were presented and utilized within gameplay and narrative with the obvious and problematic conclusion being that female playercharacters were either underrepresented or, if present, lacked the variety or depth of the male protagonists.
However, the newest critical focus––and just as important––looks away from the screen and toward both the community and the developers. If the more forward-looking fans of gaming out there want more representation in games, we should also be asking ourselves about representation in the making of games. With regard to the community, there is a harrowing documentary that I discussed on the show awhile ago,GTFO, about female pro gamers and critics that I guarantee will have you wanting to throw a chair against the wall.
The Kotaku article discusses the story behind––and of––a new book, Women in Game Development: Breaking the Glass Level-Cap, that deals specifically with female developers and their road to being professionals in the field and how that road is paved with sacrifices, shame-dodging, and prioritizing aspects of their identity that males in the same positions never had to make. It’s infuriating how human beings are being treated in a field that, at the core of it, everyone loves so very much.
In a bit of selfish rank-pulling, I’m using “Worth a Look” as a “Save for Later” bookmark for myself. This article discusses Dungeons & Dragons as it is used in the recent Netflix hit, Stranger Things (which will be my “Week in Geek” in this week’s episode). Stranger Things has been a Facebook darling, especially for nerds born in, or who lived through, the 1980s and for good reason.
Stranger Things is less a snapshot of life in the 1980s and more of an evocation of 1980s adventure movies: The Goonies, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Stand By Me, Explorers, and the like. By mentioning those movies, I don’t mean that is nostalgically mining those movies for characters, plot points, or in-joke references; I would argue that’s not the case at all. Instead, it feels like those movies. The Duffer Brothers (and their directors) have seemingly “figured out” how those movies were paced, how they sounded, and how they looked to feel like a long-lost sibling to those earlier movies. It’s meta-eerie on top of the creepiness of the show itself. It’s able to capture what J.J. Abrams tried to capture (and did pretty well) in his excellent Super 8. But Stranger Things just does it right in an ephemeral way.
The show is framed (or so the article tells me, I haven’t finished the series) around Dungeons & Dragons, which Kunzelman decides to parse not only as a narrative bookend, but also as a thrust, arguing that the game “functions as the primary metaphor for how these young nerdy boys are able to communicate and cooperate with one another and how they contextualize the challenges they face.”
I am eager to read the article, but not as eager as I am to finish the show. It’s so good.
I remember having a semantic debate with Andrew back in high school regarding the correct phraseology to use when discussing the completion of a video game’s content. Basically it came down to two choices: did I beat the game or had I won the game?
This was back in the nineties when declaring a victor in order to make discussion about games as clear as possible mattered, because most games were basically the same thing. Most games were linear, most games had a story to tell, most games had an endgame scenario and player reward of some sort. But that’s gone now, and the need to declare a proper usage seems less significant now that there are games that can be beaten (as if the game were the opponent) and games that can be won (as if the end game or post-game content were a reward––with moregame). Some games now don’t ever end due to being competitive arena-type experiences or challenges to accomplish a new personal best.
There’s also the idea that people just aren’t finishinggames any more, which speaks more to how culture uses video games. I would say that in the eighties and nineties, since most games were basically the same thing, sitting down with a game involved pretty much the same process: 1. learn the mechanics, 2. Master the systems to 3. Complete all the programmed tasks and see the ending and/or credits. Now that’s only one of a variety of processes need to have at the ready when sitting down with the game. In fact, the first step of most gaming experiences now is simply figuring out what kind of game it is before loading in a proper order of operations. Gone Home is not Call of Duty which is not The Last of Us which is not Geometry Wars. The spectrum is only gaining more colors and variations.
Lewis Beard’s Paste article looks at how endings have changed over time and how seemingly harmless new systems fundamentally changed how games are made and played (New Game+). With that in mind, he looks at the modern state of game endings and why, perhaps, they just don’t matter anymore, and that’s fine. It’s just part of the evolution of this field and culture that, with hope, has no end in sight.
This is a harrowing article that really shows how much damage the #GamerGate crowd is doing to video games culture beyond just people trying to play and talk about games on the internet. I just know this: the only other time I have seen or heard of doxxing being used was by white supremacists, which is not the best company to keep.
Academia has been having a hard time in the last few decades as it has become the focal point for not only violence but general cultural ire due to the rise of trigger warnings and “safe space” debates. But it comes down to a simple point of fact: a university campus is a place where you gain education through trial and error. If it’s a safe place for anything, it’s a safe place to fail and try again with guidance (if you want it) and feedback (which you’ll get no matter what). That pressure from outside the academic sphere––in this case, virulent gamers who feel they have been tasked with the job of gatekeeping an open medium––is permeating inward is, in my eyes, a direct violation of what academics is about, a point to which A.D. Andrew hints at the end of her article:
Everywhere, academics with a digital focus are forced to make that choice. Can we afford to exist publicly? Others are making the choice in a different way—by not writing that article, by not pursuing that line of thinking. We talk often about the people silenced by online harassment, but research is being silenced as well. We are losing knowledge and with it, the potential for growth.
The problem is that #GamerGaters and sane people all agree on a fundamental point: video games are amazing. Why can’t it just stop there?
Comicsverse is a podcast I have found over the last few months and really enjoy. It’s dedicated to a nigh-academic (but still incredibly silly) look at comics––mostly Big 2 stuff––that really dives deep into the psychology, cultural criticism, and craft behind some of the biggest titles and their characters. I haven’t listened to every episode, instead focusing mostly on their X-Men-related podcasts (including a recent, really good interview with Chris Claremont).
The most recent X-Men podcast, titled “The Dream”, looks at the series and concept as a whole rather than focusing on a specific story arc or character, which is nice, and goes into great depth on a few topics I touched on in my own conversation about the X-Men with Elijah Kaine. Mostly, the panel-based seminar discussion focuses on the idea of “Xavier’s Dream” and how, over the course of the series, it has been iterated on, challenged, and damaged. They also have some fascinating investigations into the X-Men metaphor for minorities and how the characters have echoed specific real-world ideologies throughout history. It’s definitely worth a listen, though I must warn that even though the humor can get juvenile and a little annoying, the overall content actually makes the tiny cringes I went through worth it. They also bleep out the F-word with probably the worst sound effect I have ever heard, which can be a deal breaker when they go on F-word-fueled tangents.