Tag Archives: Video game

Heroine Complex

Running from the forces of patriarchal ass-hattery, "Remember Me" heroine Nilin

Running from the forces of patriarchal ass-hattery, “Remember Me” heroine Nilin

How difficult is it for video games developers to include female characters in their title?  Bafflingly tough, if two news stories this week are to be believed.

No sooner has French developer Dontnod revealed that publishers turned down their upcoming title “Remember Me” as it featured a female lead,than one of “Mass Effect 3″’s writers indicates that the games industry is actively resistant to featuring female characters.

If your game’s lead is a smart-mouthed dudebro, you’re on easy street but anything outside of that slight , gender-fixated design stipulation is an uphill sell, it would seem. So much for inclusion and broadening the audience, eh, chaps?  I suppose we can take some comfort from the RPG genre, where the demands of flexible character creation will out and more diverse options are frequently available but what’s to say that the next-gen can’t offer us a bit more diversity from our action platformer hybrids and shooty-shooty stabby-stabby fests.

There’s a case to be made that simply reskinning the male lead with an alternate female character model and doing nothing subsequently to address changes in the story would be almost as bad, but shouldn’t developers be trying to use the level of horsepower at their disposal to give us more choice?  Hello, player agency?  Or is that just a meaningless buzz phrase with zero actual meaning?

I suspect that some spurious marketing data suggests that people don’t buy games with female leads (just as Marvel are unlikely to make a “Black Widow” or “She Hulk” movie because nobody went to see “Elektra” or “Catwoman“), but this argument always strikes me as remarkably bogus and far too convenient.

A good game with a central female protagonist, person of colour or any non-traditional lead will sell if the mechanics are solid and publishers support it – the issue that I note time and again is that Game X is green-lit, gets good preview word of mouth and then falls over at retail because there’s no marketing behind it.  You can’t get people to buy a game if they don’t know that it’s out there.  I doubt that most consumers would actively boycott the next “Call of Duty” if you were playing a female Marine in some near-future combat scenario – they’d want to blow stuff up and head-shot dudes and the gender of the first person avatar you were inhabiting wouldn’t necessarily resonate that much.

Of course, I’m sure that the number of polygons and bump-mapping complexities necessary to render the ladies convincingly is the problem, and certainly not residual banal sexism and creative mindsets firmly locked in the 1950’s.  FYI, games industry, you’re not supposed to want to be Don Draper, lads – he’s kind of a dinosaur.

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“Wreck-It Ralph” – the ultimate video game movie?

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Video games and movies – traditionally uncomfortable bedfellows, wouldn’t you agree?   Made on the cheap, by inexperienced directors graduating from making adverts and frequently starring actors who would clearly rather be doing something else, the list of video game adaptations is a list of movies which aim low and miss even that humble goal.

So, perhaps, a different strategy is required?

Disney‘s “Wreck-It Ralph” is a movie set in the world of arcade games, has cameo appearances from many classic gaming characters and does such a good job of imbibing the essence of video games and utilising the best aspects of film that you wonder why in the name of Mario Mario anybody would want to make a cheap cash-in action flick out of an FPS when they could be doing something far more worthwhile – and financially lucrative – like this.

The film follows the titular anti-hero, voiced wonderfully by John C. Reilly, who toils as the archetypal bad guy in 1980’s arcade game “Fix-It Felix Jnr.”  A combination of career fatigue, hostile co-workers and a lack of cake prompts Ralph to experience a mid-life crisis and our protagonist realises that he no longer wants to be bad.  As noble an ambition as that is, the video game world needs antagonists and Ralph soon realises that he’s going to have to take matters into his own gigantic, 8-bit hands by winning a medal and reaping the spoils which come from ascending an arcade game’s leader boards.

Sweet Wheels, pint-size.

Sweet Wheels, pint-size.

Though steeped in nerdy video game arcana – oh hai there, Konami code! – “Wreck-It Ralph” functions best as a propulsive action adventure with a simple and mostly unobtrusive moral about the importance of not judging books by their cover, and is well served by a talented voice cast.  Reilly is impeccable as the sad sack wannabe nice guy, Sarah Silverman is just on the right side of the cute/annoying divide as game glitch Vanellope, as ostracised by the other characters in her kart racer game “Sugar Rush” as Ralph is in his digital home.

You don’t need to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of arcade gaming, home consoles and game trivia to get the most out of “…Ralph” – sensibly, this film concentrates on inhabiting the world and giving a layer of delightful referential subtext for fans to geek out over whilst allowing a young audience to enjoy a blisteringly-paced adventure with so many primary colours on screen during the “Sugar Rush” race sequences that you’ll think you’re having some sort of acid flash-forward.

A must for gamers, a safe bet for family audiences and a fine addition to the ongoing canon of Disney animation, “Wreck-It Ralph” is a deftly-made, charming example of what the House of Mouse does best and illustrates the combination of artistry and storytelling which marks them out from their competitors in the overcrowded CG animation field.

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Rogue Failure. Or ‘How I Stopped Worrying and Learned To Love the Paragon’

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I am not and never have been a rebel.  In life, as in gaming, I tend to follow a path of general decency and behaving unto others as I would wish for them to treat me – it isn’t cool, it rarely yields great rewards and marks you out to others in the world as being even more of a nerd than they expect you to be.  Thankless existence, unto eternity?  You said it.

I am, dear reader, a Paragon, a Paladin, a White Hat – and I’m ok with it.

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My current favourite gaming experience, the omnipresent “Kingdoms of Amalur”, gives me the chance to play as a rogue class ranged fighter and what I’ve discovered from my now 52 hours of game play is that I’m absolutely useless when given the choice to exercise bad behaviour in games.  ‘Amalur’, for example, gives your levelled-up Rogue class the chance to use your stealth ability to sneak up on adversary and ally alike and either shank them assassin style or simply pickpocket them for nifty loot.

Curiously, I find it more morally acceptable and preferable to sneak up on humanoid aggressors and slice them six ways to Sunday than to go creeping around the game world and cut purses or rifle through wallets – how’s that for a bizarre reaction to choices that a game designer provides you with?   I’d like to think that it doesn’t prove that I’m a sociopath-in-waiting but it does give you pause.

It’s this odd disconnect between real world personal conviction and the options inherent in a video game environment  which has kept me from playing sandbox gangster titles like “Saints Row”, “Mafia” and the grand-daddy of them all, “Grand Theft Auto”.  If I can’t envisage ever wanting to be the characters or inhabiting their world, there’s no way that I’m going to play the title – it’s probably a Boy Scout reaction to the criminal anti-hero archetype but there you go.

That’s not to say that I require characters in-game to be Peter Pureheart and impossibly, impractically noble as that option offers as much of a game-breaking flaw as glitch code or poor design decisions but I don’t want to play games where the protagonist’s raison etre is slaying innocent bystanders and arbitrarily causing car crashes.  It’s just not how I’m wired, folks.

I suppose the point that I’m grasping towards is that I like being offered choice about what I do in games – perhaps I should make 2013 the year that I start to take advantage of those choices and see where they take me in games?

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2012 in review – Games? We got games…

To some, an epic battle of beast versus noble knight. To me? Monday morning.

Gamers have lived in interesting times in 2012.  From Doritosgate  to a new console from Nintendo, from Kickstarter letting star developers of yore crowd-source funds for niche titles to the NRA blaming pop culture (and, inevitably, video games) for inspiring real-life violence, to studios like Sony Liverpool and even publishers like THQ either closing down permanently or entering Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to that “Mass Effect 3” ending, there’s been no shortage of stories on the daily games blogs to make you say “…hmm”.

Perhaps this weird sense of flux is partially attributable to the waning days of this gaming generation? With the debut of a hand-held  iterative system like the PS Vita and the aforementioned Wii U heralding the onset of a new generation of home systems, it’s probably not unusual to expect some consolidation in gaming – especially with the competition from smart phones being an ongoing agitant and conspiring to win yet more eyeballs and minds from the traditional gaming monoliths of Sony and Nintendo (next to whom, implausibly, Microsoft are the peppy young upstart of the sector).  If you’re not fast enough to keep up, and can’t get attention quickly, your game’s in the bargain bins two weeks after release and your studio will doubtless be downsizing headcount left, right and centre.  Who would want to be a games dev?  Not me, that’s for sure.

It would be easy to get downhearted, but there’s always reasons to get excited about this hobby – titles which engage so much that they persuade an otherwise sane gamer to invest 51 hours of his life (and counting) into a fantasy universe without really denting the main quest line – if you’ve read this blog at all this year, you’ll be in no surprise when I tell you that “Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning” was my favourite game of 2012.

It’s not one which has featured much in the year-end discussion – that honour goes to the likes of Tell Tale’s “The Walking Dead”, ThatGameCompany‘s art-em-up, “Journey”, steampunk stealth fest, “Dishonored” and the revived “Halo 4” – but it’s the game which pulled me back in, hour after hour, level after level to discover the secret provenance and reason for my seven foot blue elven ranged scout’s mysterious resurrection from death.

"Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning" is my game of 2012

“Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning” is my game of 2012

Lots of action, deep lore (with a story by R.A. Salvatore), charming music, a neat inventory system and an indefinable x-factor which compels you to keep forging ahead even with the likes of “ME3”, “Halo 4” and every thing that XBLA/PSN/Steam could offer calling you away – that’s what my game of 2012 offered.  “Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning” is the overlooked gem of 2012 and the title which I hope somehow sees a renaissance worthy of it’s central plot line on the soon-to-be-unveiled next gen systems from Microsoft and Sony.

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“Resident Evil” week – divine “Retribution”

Evil goes virtual, more like…

So it’s come to this – the fifth movie in the now absurdly contorted narrative Gordian Knot which is the “Resident Evil” series.

“Retribution”, for that is its subtitle, pitches heroine Alice (Milla Jovovich) into possibly the most meta film in the sequence to date – to those glancing at it with disdain from the outside, this is a dumb-as-a-box-of-hammers franchise frippery, a tossed-off horror action mash-up with only nominal differences to distinguish it from the other movies in the series which they are only too happy to ignore.

To those of us in the know, this is possibly the world’s first example of cinematic downloadable content – a fan-service add-on which borrows from the business model of modern console gaming to provide cinema goers with an added value bolt-on to the series which doesn’t advance the storyline in any meaningful way save to pitch Alice into new, themed combat arenas, parachute beloved characters from the games like femme fatale Ada Wong into the film continuity and act as an amuse-bouche before the planned final entry in the franchise gets properly apocalyptic on our collective derrieres – the traditional, eye-popping final shot promises nothing more than a climactic battle to end them all.

Yes, that is a bloody ridiculous outfit. You can’t tell that these games/movies are made by horny nerds, can you?

The real issue which seems to have set the decaying, T-virus infected feline amongst the clueless avians is that apparently deliberate lack of story – whereas critics have set about previous “Resident Evil” movies for lacking purpose and eschewing plot to concentrate on high-octane fight sequences and explosions, there’s a very real sense with this entry in the series that writer/producer/director Paul W.S. Anderson has deliberately and knowingly jettisoned such niceties as narrative and characterisation to offer a curious cross-media construct which is neither game nor film – a flashy piece of entertainment which looks like a movie but has more in common with the connecting cinematic vignettes which bridge levels in contemporary video games.

For my part, as a gamer and somebody who loves movies, this latest Resi is a bold and cavalier acknowledgement that audiences experience narrative in a different way than our parents did – I find as much value and enjoyment in a brisk ten minute episode of a YouTube show as I would from slogging through 22 episodes of the latest network drama.  I know tropes, I can appreciate genre convention (and decode the subversion thereof) and I don’t need to have my entertainment framed in the kind of classical structures which many critics seem to require film makers to slavishly ape.

If nothing else, this latest instalment of the franchise fully embraces its source material (if only as a jumping off point) and is the most explicitly video game-inspired film that Paul W.S. Anderson and Jeremy Bolt have yet presented – watch this movie for more than ten minutes and you’ll be able to tick off the influences – Valve’s “Portal” and it’s test chamber structure presided over by a homicidal, female-identified A.I. is front and centre, with a hilariously prolonged ‘rugged heroes vs. soldier zombies’ gun battle in one level scene being utterly synonymous with the ‘Nazi Zombies‘ sub-games from the last few “Call of Duty” games.

It must almost have come as a relief for the film school crit-crowd to have a major plot line in the film blatantly lift the ‘Ripley/Newt’ surrogate mother riffs from James Cameron‘s “Aliens” – at least there’s something to aim their hipster scorn at which doesn’t require a degree in survival horror continuity and recent video game history to appreciate.

Yep, just your everyday tale of post-apocalyptic, V.R. training simulations and massed clone armies…

A word, if we can, on the use of 3D in this film – Anderson’s third consecutive feature to be shot using the Cameron/Pace rigs and certainly the most technically accomplished utilisation of the technology that I’ve seen outside of “Avatar”.  As this is a sci-fi/horror/action flick, there’s the requisite number of “Look! An axe flying at your head!” camera shots and mutant undead beasts leering into the front row but Anderson and Director of Photography Glen MacPherson manage to do some interesting things with perspective – Alice’s Umbrella prison cell, and the use of space in the frame are as diverting as the showier stuff and the New York level/sequence has neat perspective use to justify the price premium inherent in seeing a 3D (or IMAX 3D, for my sins) presentation.  And that’s before mentioning the stunning reverse/slo-mo/3D opening sequence – it makes arguably not a lick of sense in the great scheme of things, but it’s very pretty indeed.

Such is the full-tilt insanity of this fifth movie that it’s hard to know how Anderson could hope to top the constant barrage of action, cheap jump scares, fan-serving cameos, 3D eye-candy and zombie-punching ass-kickery that “Retribution” serves up unless he aims to abandon formal cinematic structure altogether and frames the next flick as an uninterrupted, ninety-minute long battle sequence against the undead harbingers of the apocalypse with only minimal dialogue and plot sketching to guide the uninitiated along.

That crazy disregard for convention extends to the acting – is Bingbing Li channelling her character’s voice acting from the games or is she really that wooden (I’d say not – she was perfectly fine in the Jackie Chan kids adventure, The Forbidden Kingdom)?  Returning “R.E. Apocalypse” alumnus Sienna Guillory is similarly…variable in her return to the series as Jill Valentine – she’s playing a character under mind-control, which does give her something of a pass, but her villainous turn here suggests less a ultra bad-assed warrior chick and more of homicidal sixth-form prefect who can somehow kill you with a flick of her pinky:  Dem line readings, kids – something to treasure if you see this film on DVD and Blu-Ray.

The last, apocalyptic and seemingly unending shot in the movie promises much – let’s see if Anderson can keep up his end of the bargain and deliver the movie which perhaps gives us the full-on, sense-assaulting future war epic that, say,  the “Terminator” franchise has long promised audiences but significantly failed to deliver.  Who knows?  On the evidence of this most video-game inspired entry in the series, the next “Resi” might just come with Quick-Time Event prompts on-screen and an Xbox 360 joypad free with your 3D glasses.

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New from GamesCom – “Remember Me”

If you’re at all interested in the world of video games, this week sees an interesting stop on the international show calendar, Cologne‘s annual GamesCom shindig.

Gamescom – Germany’s finest gaming show.

Sitting between the all-out industry showcase E3 and the nerdier, Penny Arcade-affiliated PaxPrime, GamesCom differs in being held in Europe and offering a big shop window before the Autumn games releases start to drop (increasingly, it seems, the long-established Tokyo Game Show is being shut out of much of the action and becoming less relevant, which is a real shame).

Already today we’ve seen E-Sports integration into the critically important multiplayer section of “Call of Duty: Black Ops 2”, which is one of those proverbial games changers and a flurry of rumours preceding the predictable no-show of venerable Valve vapourware, “Half Life 3“.  My interest, however, was drawn to Eurogamer.net’s story on new Capcom sci-fi action game, “Remember Me” (Facebook link).

Capcom game “Remember Me”, clearly as in love with “Blade Runner” as anybody else with a soupcon of sanity.

Ass-kicking, post-Whedon/Cameron female protagonist?  Check.  Futuristic setting in a recognizable European capital city (Paris)? Check.  Gameplay which suggests a blend of “Uncharted” platforming, combat playing homage to Rocksteady’s “Batman” games and some hide-in-the-shadows stealth sections which all third-person action games must include?  Chiggedy-Check-Check.

A third-person action platform adventure with a charismatic protagonist in a glossy setting – I’m in.

The game’s scheduled to release next May – hopefully there’s enough sci-fi action included to get me through next Summer’s inevitable games drought (which might be worse than usual if the hints about next-gen consoles arriving next Autumn turn out to be correct).

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“Silent Hill: Revelation” – misty gloom + dead nurses x pyramid heads = fun times!

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Remember Christophe Gans‘ adaptation of Konami’s survival horror game, Silent Hill“?  It was – by crikey! – a half-decent video game movie which captured much of the atmosphere of the series and was mostly successful as a movie.

In news that will surprise nobody, this Halloween sees a sequel, Silent Hill: Revelation“, which promises more murderous faceless nurses, pyramid head psychos, omnipresent urban decay and solid character actors (Alice Krige, Deborah Kara Unger, Kim Coates) doing their best ‘creepy grown-up’ acting whilst rounding on Aussie actress Adelaide Clemens (who’s the spitting image of Michelle Williams).

Yep, that Michelle Williams cloning process is coming along nicely…

The movie’s out on October 26th in the US and in perfect time for Halloween in the UK.  I’m going to be seeing this at some point, as British director Michael J Bassett has previously brought us the very fine likes of “Deathwatch” and “Solomon Kane”, fun genre pictures which are twenty times more enjoyable than the last few Michael Bay movies.  Mind you, so is an ingrowing toenail, so that’s not exactly a recommendation.

Still, it all looks creepy, desperately wrong and is in the new-fangled three dimensions that all the kids are enjoying, so they have my five pounds for a matinée screening.

I’m such a cheap date…

Oh, this isn’t going to end well…

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