DON’T BE A DICK: In an astounding act of bravery and solidarity, actress Charisma Carpenter (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel) spoke out against abusive practices of tv auteur, Joss Whedon, in support of Justice League actor, Ray Fisher. Andrew and D. Bethel have a thoughtful discussion of autership, specifically as it relates to the realm of nerds and geeks.
GOTTA GO FAST:Sonic the Hedgehog destroys box office expectations Valentine’s Day weekend. Andrew and Dan discuss the surprise success of this cinematic adaptation of the beloved video game franchise.
BIRDS OF PREY: OR, THE REINSTATEMENT OF INSTITUTIONALIZED SEXISM AGAINST WOMAN-LED SUPERHERO FILMS:Birds of Prey released last week and its box office performance left some upset. D. Bethel and Andrew talk about the relativity of box office success, how Marvel fandom may be tainting the pond, and how marketing is a strange magic.
DOOMED ANIMAL CROSSING: In a bit of light news, with Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Doom Eternal releasing on the same day, Twitter and Reddit have become very interesting places, and in mostly good ways.
The tweet that did the direct comparison between Ford v. Ferrari and Birds of Prey:
“Episode 101 – The Black Arts of Algorithms” (05 August 2015): Where Andrew and D. Bethel discuss a similar discourse around the reboot of Ghostbusters and how it was deemed a failure despite earning perfectly fine box office numbers.
“Episode 155 – Captain Host” (20 July 2018): Where Dan and Andrew ask the question, “Were there too many superhero/nerd movies packed into a single summer?”, among which Solo: A Star Wars Story was released.
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.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew recovers from his serious bout of time-travel last week by watching Wil Wheaton’s tabletop adventure, Titansgrave: The Ashes of Volkana while Dan finds room on the bandwagon to jump on and start watching Netflix’s Stranger Things.
SELF-FULFILLING PROPHECY?: Even though DC/Warner Bros.’ Suicide Squad only hit theaters today, audiences at premier screenings have been walking away less than happy, possibly sounding a cloister bell for the cinematic universe they’ve been trying to build since Man of Steel. Dan and Andrew investigate how the fate of this movie may influence future DC/Warner Bros. entries.
STATISTICS AND RHETORIC: Unintentionally hitting both Andrew and Dan’s wheelhouses, they examine a controversy that surfaced on the Manfeels Park blog where the author examined the strange disparity in the language around the interpretation of box office returns for both Ghostbusters and Star Trek Beyond. Despite having similar budgets and similar opening weekend numbers, Ghostbusters was declared by some to be a disaster for Paramount, while Star Trek‘s similar numbers were hailed as being a great success. What is going on here? Is it intentional? Is it warranted? Is it bad or good analysis?
Leave a comment about this week’s topics at forallintents.net. Be sure to also join the official Facebook and Google+ pages for links, conversations, and to meet other listeners. Help the show reach out to new listeners by leaving a review on the iTunes store.
And, for what it’s worth, there is (in a sense) a Transformers Genesis (re: the outtakes):
For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.
-“Stayin’ in Black” by Wax Audio
-“Also Sprach Zarathustra” by Richard Strauss (conducted by Herbert von Karajan)
-“Halloween Theme – Main Title” by John Carpenter
-“Pseudo Suicide” by Oysterhead
-“Ghostbusters” by Walk the Moon
-“Rest In Peace” by Nobuo Uematsu (from Final Fantasy VI)