E3 Day One: Microsoft Press Conference

E3 kicked off today with the Microsoft Media Briefing, where gaming fans and hopefuls alike filled the LA Galen Center to hear about the gaming juggernaut’s next big thing.

The conference opened with a bombastic Halo 4 trailer, showing stunning gameplay of Master Chief as well as new weapons and enemies revealed. During the demo, it appeared that players used what appeared to be a kind of Detective Mode (similar to the Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City games) to identify enemies and use during combat. Developer 343 appears to have been able to take the beloved Bungie series and put their own interesting spin on this latest installment.

The next major game announced was the Gears of War: Judgement trailer, a new game in the series by developer People Can Fly. Though the trailer was short, it was able to impress as it showed Damon Baird, one of the characters from the original game’s Delta Squad, in shackles amid images of Locusts and COG soldiers fighting in a burning city. The game takes place 15-years before the original trilogy and opens with Baird in shackles while being tried for treason. Though details are scarce, it appears to be more of what Gears fans love about the series.

Another highpoint of the conference was the reveal of a new Splinter Cell title, Splinter Cell: Blacklist. The game takes place on the Iraq/Iran border, and gameplay-wise is reminiscent of an Assassin’s Creed game without the crowd hiding mechanic and more guns. Way more guns. After the reveal of the game demo, Ubisoft was a floodgate of information, promoting trailers and screenshots mere moments after the reveal. It’s easy to assume that more will be shown on this game during Ubisoft’s own Press Conference later today.

Other notable game demos were Tomb Raider, which featured Laura battling her way through a muddy environment, in cinematic gameplay that was very similar to the Uncharted franchise. As well as Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, which wrapped up the conference with an extensive demo centering on a squad trying to evacuate the President from downtown Los Angeles. Interestingly enough, this is Call of Duty game with prominent ladies, incidentally. Female president and Anderson, the jump jet pilot.

However, games were not the main focus of the briefing, as a good chunk of it was spent on updates to Xbox Live and how Microsoft is hoping to create the console into a means of converging media. Microsoft announces new media sharing app SmartGlass for Xbox 360, which is a tablet that the company hopes will immerse the way people view their media, by bringing cross-platform functionality. To be blunt, it appears to be Microsoft’s reaction to Nintendo’s Wii U tablet, but promises that the app will work with “all the devices [users] already own.” Kinect was also showcased, but now mostly for its voice commands in EA Sports games like Fifa 2013 and Madden 2013. Again, seeing is believing and it appears that the more peripherals Microsoft tries to tack on to the console, the more clunky the console feels.

They also Internet Explorer coming to Xbox Live, as well as NBA and NHL game packages. More channels are heading to console as well including Nickelodeon, Paramount, Machinima, Univision and a lot of ESPN integration.

All in all, the conference didn’t announce anything that was particularly exciting. It’s not surprising that Halo 4 and Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 were received well, but when the bulk of a company’s announcements are forgotten the moment Trey Parker and Matt Stone step on stage to talk for a minute on the newest South Park title, it’s obvious you have a snore fest. Not even the sudden Usher Concert brought upon by the Dance Central 3 announcement was enough to bring the energy of the conference up.

The next of the Big Three to have their conference is SONY, who will be presenting tonight after Electronic Arts and Ubisoft and will (hopefully) have more games to discuss during their game conference.

Nintendo’s Creating Something Unique

During their Pre-E3 event, Global President Satoru Iwata revealed new information about the company’s newest console, the Wii U.

Streaming live from Nintendo’s Tokyo Headquarters, Iwata began the presentation by acknowledging that the conference room in which the presentation was taking place was vastly unfurnished, though pointed to a framed picture of Japanese characters that read “Create Something Unique” claiming it has been the slogan that the company has used as its guidance since its founding.

The plaque that sit behind Iwata reading the company’s slogan “Create Something Unique”

Iwata believes that during Nintendo’s E3 conference many viewers will find their announcements to be “certainly unique” but in a “good way.” The conference was mostly to further explain the Wii U, most likely due the confusion regarding the console from last E3 and wanting to clear up  any questions before their press conference.

Iwata also went on to talk about the book “Alone Together” by Sherry Turkle, saying that new technologies have made life easier and more efficient, but suggests it is changing the nature of human relationships. One of the challenges Nintendo has set for itself was to make something that would unite people rather than divide them, whether in the same room or distances apart.

As the game industry advances, and graphics and gameplay become more engrossing, the community aspect has metamorphosised into something else.

Years ago, people still would play games with friends, but not over the internet as seen in a game like Diablo III, or over a live service like a Call a Duty game. Players would have to go to the other’s house and pick up a second controller to play. Before the rise of the internet, players would have to buy books of “cheat codes” or have word-of-mouth methods of finishing a Dungeon in a Zelda game, or Meteoroid title. Gamer’s traded Pokemon through an oversized link-cable, which would connect two Game Boys to trade a Charmader for a Bulbasaur.

These experiences don’t exist anymore – modern gaming has WiiFi and GameFaqs and Wikis providing answers and connectivity between players. Though with this connectivity comes solidarity, and is an interesting aspect of gaming for Nintendo to try to tackle.

Iwata showed a stock photo of a family sitting together, starting at various devices commenting that, “This scene may look familiar, as a group of friends or family sit together but are not truly connected.”

One of Nintendo's challenges is to tackle how tech is changing the nature of human relationships.

The existentialism of Nintendo’s creative strategy is similar to the one they used when first marketing the Wii. If recalled, the American commercials for the console during its launch stared Nintendo Execs going to family’s houses saying, “We would like to play,” before engaging in a round of Wii Sports. Unlike it’s competitors who often try to sell consoles on graphics, performance or gameplay, Nintendo has been selling to the family unit. Not only that, they are trying to sell the innovation of the headlining feature of the Wii U, its controller.

Now officially called, the Wii U Gamepad, clearly company is hoping to converge the platform of touch-screen mobile gaming to the home console. Again, it’s risky, though if the Wii and 3DS have shown anything it’s that Nintendo takes risk and turns it into rewarding hardware.

The use of the Wii U touchscreen may allow for mobile developers to create content for the console.

Through integrating the family unit as well as various new technologies, it’s apparent that Nintendo is a company that sees the industry through a different lens. Though obviously still trying to be profitable, they really are a company that works to innovates their hardware in more ways than just spec updates and graphics tweaks. Whether this will be a good direction can only be fully concluded after the company unveils new games during their E3 Press Conference on Tuesday.

Who controls the games?

This could easily become a post about Mass Effect 3’s ending. It wouldn’t take much effort to ignorantly rant and rave about BioWare’s grand finale to their five-year series being destroyed by the last portion of the game. But it won’t, as the topic has been beaten so hard into the ground that its ghosts are still being bludgeoned.

The real concern does not stem from just this game, but the type of dialogue Mass Effect 3 brought to the surface.  There’s nothing wrong with players having a conversation about games, whether it be online or offline, but the issue comes down to which side has the right to determine a game’s content, the players or the developers.

On one hand, players’ disappointment has quickly grown into anger. The snowballing rage was enough to create online petitions and Facebook pages demanding “better” endings.

"THIS IS NOTHING LIKE MY FANFICTION!"

"THIS IS NOTHING LIKE MY FANFICTION!"

Groups have formed, most notable the “Retake Mass Effect” campaign (a play on BioWare’s “take back Earth” promotion) that is working to persuade BioWare to edit the game’s original endings and wrap up what they perceive to be loose ends.

Though on the other hand, there’s BioWare themselves who have stated in interviews that they as a company “strongly believe in the team’s artistic vision for the end of this arc of the Mass Effect franchise.”

Retake’s mission statement claims that if BioWare desires to continue operating successfully as a business they must be amenable to the wishes of their customers, stepping back from the creative authority traditionally possessed by developers.

“We just want to release awesome stuff. Players please, give us a chance. Judge our games based on what they are,” said Christina Norman, a former Mass Effect Designer at a panel held at this year’s Games Developer Conference. “Stop thinking you’re a producer and telling us when and where we should be building our content.”

The negative publicity didn’t seem to do much to the game’s financial success, however. During game’s first month of release, the game’s publisher Electronic Arts still saw their stock rise. NPD reports that Mass Effect 3 was the top selling game in March, proving the saying that even negative publicity can be good publicity.

Even though Mass Effect seems to have escaped loss sales relatively unscathed, the threats of using sales against a developer are a serious matter. Games are expensive to produce and publishers are already hesitant to supporting new games in favor of investing in established franchises. After a painting is finished and hung a museum, if someone does not like the painting they wouldn’t demand that the painter change it. The painting is finished, as is the same with games.

"Take back Picasso!"

"Take back Picasso!"

Developers do not deserve to be threatened with sales when their game receives criticism, as it’ll only promote publishers to safe titles and impose on the artistic vision of creators.

Broadening the Game Demos

Over the years, video games have been nearly everywhere, from post-apocalyptic worlds, to the deep depths of space. As an entertainment form they’ve covered a lot of ground, but when it comes to characters, apparently the role of the straight, white, male protagonist has become the norm.

In the media, there seems to always be an argument of overrepresented demographics versus those who are underrepresented or not represented correctly.

This is not just a problem in mainstream media, as the absence of diversity can be a problem with game developers as well.

Family Fun

In 2005, the International Game Developers Association’s Game Developer Demographics Report noted that out of the nearly 6,500 developers surveyed, the most overrepresented racial demographics were Caucasian and Asian. This number is a problem, as it demotes other groups to secondary characters, or nonexistent.

Video games’ status as an interactive medium gives it the capacity to tell a narrative to its audience that the player can become engrossed with for a much longer time than with television or movies.

Sadly, the type of narrative that is told through games end up with less variety when all the player sees are straight, white and male protagonists. It’s the same case if the games has one type of game play or one type of environment, it’s confining.

The lack of diversity is not just a moral argument, but a situation that could affect what kind of games are played in the future.

Developers have a hard time creating compelling, successful content, so adding the issue of whether a game is racially diverse enough is just one more thing to worry about.

Over the years, however, game developers have created a way to have players create the characters they want to see in their games.

The aspect of character customization has grown in popularity in modern games, as the feature allows for players to create their own main characters from scratch, choosing everything from gender, skin color, to voice type.

Though used in popular games such as the Mass Effect series as well as Saints Row, it’s just a first step towards offering different experiences.

A lack of racial diversity in game characters also limits the range of stories for the player by restricting the kinds of experiences protagonists of different backgrounds can bring to the table. It also tempts game writers to fall to easy stereotypes when creating characters, instead of fleshing out three-dimensional people.

For games without character customization, developers have tried the age-old approach of having an assembly of characters from a melting pot of background. Such as the Gears of War series, whose main four characters are from various racial backgrounds.

While the game tries to show a sense of unity between the characters, regardless of race, it still trips itself up by falling into stereotypical tight casting. Most notably this happens with Augustus “Cole Train” Cole the game’s token black protagonist.

In the game, Cole is an ex-athlete with a loud, arrogant personality and falls into the typical “coon” stereotype that comedians such as Eddie Murphy and Tracy Morgan have made so famous over the years.

Though the argument can be made that all of Gear’s characters are so cartoonishly exaggerated that if they were real people they physically wouldn’t be able to put their arms to their side due to the mass of their muscles, it doesn’t mean they couldn’t break the mold when it came to characterization.

While not as much of a hot-button issue as sex or violence, racial controversy is not something that is completely ignored in the game industry.

During the early days of its release, Resident Evil 5 was under heavy scrutiny for its apparently racist themes. The game, which takes place in Africa, stared Caucasian character Chris Redfield as he fought off waves of Africans.

Though earlier iterations of the game had explained that the zombie-virus had originated in Africa, game trailers showcasing a white man shooting hordes of black men in African tribes rose more than a few eyebrows.

Even his partner Sheva Alomar, a woman whose background is never fully explained, appears to be a woman of mixed race. Her “tragic mulatto” stereotype was also canned, and her skin appeared to be lightens on various game art related products

Though images can be perceived differently, there are few choice scenes in the game that shows the racial-tense undertones. Scenes like shady black men kicking what that appears to be a body in sack, gives the implication that these people were “bad” even before they were zombies.

Even small parts like seeing a horde of zombie black men dragging a white woman into their hut gives off an implication of the threat of black men to white women.

Interestingly enough, the game’s developer, Capcom,  is from Japan meaning these issues are not just Western issues, but span globally.

Nevertheless while racially diverse characters are underrepresented, there are other types of characters are basically nonexistent. When it comes to LGBT characters in video games, it’s very difficult come up with main characters who are openly gay, and not playing a stereotype.

Even in modern games, male gay characters are still portrayed as a sissy character with effeminate mannerisms, dress, and speech. Though fighting games have several gay characters, and several secondary characters are supposedly gay, they usually fall into obvious molds.

Jean Armstrong, of Ace Attorney fame, frequently confuses other characters about his gender with his effeminate attitude.

 

Once again, it’s the Role-playing games that are at the forefront of integrating sexuality into games. Games like the Fable series, Skyrim and BioWare’s various titles have allowed characters to participate in same-sex relationships and have positive gay characters.

However, not every type of game is a Role-playing game that allows for players to customize their characters’ race, sexuality or even gender. Many games still have iconic main characters who flagship their series.

Now that doesn’t mean that Mario should be changed from a white man to a black man, but that developers shouldn’t be afraid to dip their toe into exploring the lives of different kinds of people.

Games are meant to be fun and inviting, so why not widen the scope and make them fun and inviting for everyone?

Sweet Virtual Love

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, now is a good a time as any to dim the lights, pop a bottle champagne and spend some quality time with a loved one. Unless, you’re single and are instead living your love live vicariously through video games. In that case, sorry lovelorn, but fictional characters have it better than you do.

Though proximately geared towards males, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a more romantic side of the industry. With such powerhouse couples as Nathan Drake and Elena Fisher from Uncharted, Guybrush Threepwood and Elaine Marley of the Monkey Island series, and obviously Mario and Princess Peach from Mario Bros., video games have provided some great love stories over the years. Though it’s nice to see the hero get the girl, the most inciting part of any relationship is not what happens onscreen, but behind closed doors.
The inclusion of sex in games has been a controversial topic since the early days of the industry. One of the first usage of sex in games was a text-based game called “Softporn Adventures” in 1981, in which users played a down-on-their-luck-party animal who was required to obtain certain items that would allow them to knock-boots with a series women throughout the game.
Though text-based, it was one of the early usage having sexual intercourse be a type of reward in games. A feat that inspired the graphic adventures of the Leisure Suit Larry series, where a pudgy 40-something cartoon character spent entire games chasing after bodacious cartoon women wearing a leisure suit.
Many similar games have followed since, such as “Cluster’s Revenge”, a 1982 game revolving around navigating General Cluster through levels to commit coitus with a bound and helpless Native American woman.
As expected, sex is still a very taboo subject, and “Cluster Revenge” for example was so controversial that when it hit retailers it was sold in a leather case with a lock on it. Though it’s ridiculous now to look back on the 8-bit game and wonder how something as silly as pixel-based characters shagging could be censor worthy, there are still reservations about sex in video games.
In early 2008, Bioware’s first Mass Effect had already hit shelves to positive reviews from both press and players for it’s engaging game play and gripping story. However, the fact that there was a sex scene in the game somehow made it to someone at Fox News’ ears and the network continued, in its usual fashion, to cover the story with its overzealous and inaccurate reporting.
During their segment, Fox News erroneously stated that the game gave “the ability for players to engage in full graphic sex” when in reality the love scene was quite tame, and handled much the same way of a network prime-time show. It also claimed that the game was being marketed towards children, a claim that was never backed-up factually. Even though Bioware sent an open letter to the network to retract the false statements, Fox News refused, and instead wanted creators to go on air and debate the game further.
Regardless of all this, the game went on to sell millions of copies, produce two sequels and win many awards. However, the knee jerk reaction of the media seeing sex in games shows the discomfort that still rises from the idea of sex in games. Though a problem for western game development, in Japan there is an entire genre of games solely dedicated to simulated dating and sexual encounters.
In these games, which are more commonly referred to as “dating sims”, the player controls an avatar surrounded by either male or female characters. The game play involves conversing with a selection of potential mates, attempting to woo them by increasing their internal “love meter” through correct choices of dialogue. When the game ends, the player either loses the game if they have failed to properly win over any of the love candidate, or “finishes” one of the character’s stories, often by having sex with them.
Unlike a game like Mass Effect, where romancing a character is a completely optional side-quest, dating simulators’ focus lies entirely on bagging a mate. Though popular, some alarming stories have emerged on just how much players love these games. In the case of a dating simulator called “Love Plus” for the Nintendo DS, one passionate fan on Amazon wrote in a customer review that he and his virtual-girlfriend “definitely have luck together as a couple.” and proceeded to thank the game’s developer.
In even creepier news, while most dating simulators focus on traditionally wooing ladies, there’s a bit of an underground genre of dating simulators that are a bit more creepy. While not as popular as traditional dating simulators, some titles take a more “adult” approach allowing the players to creepily watch school girls’ skirts blow up in the wind and stalking them to their houses. Though games like this is on a completely different spectrum than more traditional games, not only do they exist but they have an audience.
So this Valentine’s Day, even if you’re not spending it with a real-life loved-one, don’t fret as there’s plenty of fish in the virtual sea.

The Uncharted Territory of Sexual Equality in Video Games

For my Capstone in college, I had to do a Media Analysis thesis paper. For a study, I chose “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves” and focused on the sexual equality of the visual representation of females in video games.

The analysis included a presentation, and this paper that I’m actually really proud of and wanted to share with the myIGN community. I’ve kept the citations for academic reasons, but they shouldn’t pose too much of a distraction.

Please to enjoy:

Over the years, the video game industry has manifested itself from a two-dimensional tennis simulator, to three-dimensional full-length cinematic experiences. Granted, though the media has matured in some aspects regarding technology, story, and even gameplay, there is still one major flaw that is holding it back. Just like music videos that oftentimes use women as sexual objects to lure in males audiences, as shown in Sut Jhally’s documentary “Dreamgirls 3” , video games have been using a similar tactic for decades.

Sexism in video games is not a new issue, as it’s been happening since the mediums’ early years. As early as 1982, a game called “Cluster’s Revenge” featured a character named General Custer who players direct across a mesa littered with falling arrows to commit coitus with a bound and helpless Native American woman. It was so controversial that when it hit retailers it was sold in a leather case with a lock on it (Jensen). Though the game was a pixelated simulation, the objectivity of the Native American woman was clear, as her sole purpose was as a sexual goal for General Custer.
Though those were the 1980s, time has not changed the ways in which women are percieved in video games. Other video games, such as the “Dead or Alive”, a series that began in 1996 as a fast-paced fighting game has in since then spun-out into a volleyball the women fighters and their sex appeal play more of focal role than any sort of gameplay.

Most recently, the game “Dante’s Inferno”, a 2010 action-adventure game that is loosely based on the epic poem of the same title. The game follows Dante, who is reimagined as a Templar knight, as he journeys through the nine circles of Hell to reclaim the soul of his beloved Beatrice from the hands of Lucifer (Electronic Arts). Just like “Cluster’s Revenge”, Beatrice is perceived as a sexual goal, and is shown topless for the majority of the game. Though these games are just some examples of the issue of how females are perceived in various games and by no means speaks for the entirety of the genre, it’s an often enough occurrence to spark anger in feminist.
In an academic essay by Helen Kennedy, she explains that a major issue with feminists and games is how they are perceive, saying that, “It is a question that is often reduced to trying to decide whether [the female character] is a positive role model for young girls or just that perfect combination of eye and thumb candy for the boys.” (Kennedy) In other words, a positive female character is one who is perceived as positive is more ways than just a sex symbol.

For a predominantly visual medium like video games, characters are often asked to communicate their immediate feelings and overall personality by the way they comport themselves. As mentioned in the article “Practices of Looking: Images, Power, and Politics”, the authors Martha Sturken and Lisa Cartwright explain the issues surround visual medias:

“We live in cultures that are increasingly permeated by visual images with a variety of purposes and intended effects. These images can produce in us a wide array of emotions and responses: pleasure desire, disgust, anger, curiosity, shock, or confusion. We invest the image we create and encounter on a daily basis with significant power.” (Strurken, Cartwright, 10)

Character poses, especially default stances or hero poses, become incredibly important, or at least they do for characters who are men. When you look at an official still or an idle stance for a male character in a video game, said male character’s poise and comportment are usually carefully set up to convey or imply a specific attitude in the moment captured. For examples, in the promotional art for fighting games, male characters are often posed to look tough and strong, while females are posed to look hyper-sexualized and alluring. In action games, male characters are posed to look determined, while females usually look sporting a “come hither look” to attract attention as they’re posed as if they’re putting on some kind of peep-show for the audience.

The problem is not that these characters are sexy or even sexualized, it’s that the way in which that sexiness is presented communicates a message from the designers to the players that essentially says that they presume most of their audience are heterosexual teenage boys, and therefore do not care about any other person in the audience. Even though as time as passed, gaming as become a mainstream hobby that includes not just adolescent heterosexual males, but adults, gays and females as well.

However, as more females are interested in playing games, there’s a higher chance of them being involved in game development. With the way things are now, the only way for females in games to be viewed as empowered is “by articulating the elements differently, thereby producing a different meaning: breaking the chain in which they are currently fixed and establishing a new articulation. This “breaking the chain” is not, of course, confined to the head: it takes place through social practice and political structure.” (Hall, 90).

In the article “Inventing the Cosmo Girl”, Laurie Ouellette discusses how Helen Gurley Brown was able to take control of Cosmopolitan Magazine and change it to a medium that she felt was a healthy alternative for women in press. Much like Brown, there are go-getters in the game industry, most notable Amy Hennig the creative director at Naughty Dog and the lead script writer for the acclaimed Uncharted series.

As a business, Naughty Dog is began as an independent studio developer that as acquired by Sony Computer Entertainment in 2001, which is a wholly owned subsidiary and part of the Consumer Products & Services Group of Sony Corporation. Being a owned by a technology company allows for Naughty Dog to be provided with state-of-the-air development technology for their games, which explains why the games Uncharted series are often regarded as cinematic eye-candy. However, in-house Hennig explains that when it comes to actual development there is no social hierarchy as every person involved with the game as a say in its development. As Hennig explained in an interview, “titles at Naughty Dog are pretty amorphous, we all collaborate on everything together” and allowing for a group to fully bring out a group project.

Though there are three games in the Uncharted series, it is the second installment “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves” that showed the most maturity regarding its female characters. In the game there are two main female protagonists, Elena Fisher the honest journalist, and Chloe Frazer the shady treasure hunter. Throughout the game, both women are perceived a certain way, Elena as the goody “girl next-door” type, and Chloe as the mysterious “bad girl” type. Though both are seen as attractive and interact romantically with the main male protagonist, Nathan Drake, nethier of them are hyper-sexualized in the promotional art, or the actual game itself.
Instead of being used a merely means of plot progression for Nate, the girls become fleshed out characters of their own, with their own personalities that make them as interesting as the main male lead. Throughout the game’s narrative, both Elena and Chloe come across as real human beings as they have distinct personalities, and are driven by different motivations.

Naughty Dog treated both these female characters with respect and what feels like a high regard for their own individual motivations, and personality. For example, Elena is driven by a strong sense of justice, meanwhile Chloe has a strong sense of self-preservation. Elena is more of an idealist, whereas Chloe would probably call herself a realist. Regardless, both women come off as tough, smart and funny, and therefore making them just as likable as their male lead.

It also becomes quite clear during the game that both women can take care of themselves, and neither fall into the “damsel in distress” category. Although Nathan Drake mentions that these women are skilled and capable, the audience also see it in action. Though both women act as computer-controlled allies, they are right in mist of action and are often shooting their way through tides of enemies. They are able to stand on their own merits, and their fortunes do not exist to solely serve the personal development of Nathan Drake.

Both women are well-rounded characters rather than plot devices, which is a strict contrast to Beatrice in “Dante’s Inferno” or the Native American woman from “Cluster’s Revenge”. Chloe and Elena are pursuing their own interests, which at times conflict Drake’s and therefore forces him to reflect on his own choices. However, his personal growth doesn’t take place at the expense of Elena or Chloe, but rather as a result of their own characters.

Realistically speaking, video games are an expensive medium to develop and publish and therefore money speaks louder than words. The reason behind the video game industry using such degrading pictures of women on their promotional art or for their games is simply to sell more units of their games. There is still the immature notation that sex sells, even when the product is a completely digitalized experience.

However, in a free market like the United States, consumers have two similar types of power: consumer control over marketplace goods, and the freedom of consumer choice (Campbell, 428). Due to these two aspects, in the game industry how well one game sells can usually dictate how other games are developed afterwards. It is due to this consumer response, as it were, that there are certain trends in the games industry. This is also why games are typically aimed to be sold to male audiences, as they are the majority of the ones who have bought the product in the past.

Regardless of these factors, through Hennig’s script Naughty Dog had managed to unobjectify both these female characters in a game that was marketed predominately towards males, and their efforts were well rewarded. At the end of the year of its release, “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves” was crowned Game of the Year by many game media outlets, and was the top-selling game in the United States for October 2009, and as of October 2011 4.9 million copies of the game had been sold as reported by the NPD Group. These kind of numbers indicate that not all video games need to be marketed with a scantily clothed woman to sell copies.

Though games like “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves” are few and far between, as mentioned in the quote from Hall earlier, the only way for an misrepresented audience to change the status-quo of a medium is for them to take control and change it themselves. Media as a whole is an ever evolving changing means of communication, and video games are simply a small branch of larger picture. Though males have been a predominate target for decades, the most effective way to change the target is for more women to step-in and make the changes they want to see in the media. Women like Amy Hennig at Naughty Dog and Helen Gurley Brown at Cosmopolitan are able to pave the way, but other women will need to follow for their change to have any kind of significant ripple effect.

Uncharted Synchronicity

I feel that when I’m not ragging on the Wii for not having fun games, or politicians for not understanding what games are, I’ve spent many a blogpost wondering when a developer would be able to find a balance between an interesting storyline and strong gameplay. Thanks to Naughty Dog, I no longer need to have this argument and can sleep soundly knowing the Uncharted series has mastered this feng shui.

Released yesterday, the third installment of the franchise was catapulted by its overwhelmingly positive reviews. IGN gave the game a perfect score, calling it a “masterpiece” and praising its precise controls and immersive narrative.

With a leading couple as cute as this, how can it not be a masterpiece?

With a leading couple as cute as this, how can it not be a masterpiece?

Major news outlets also picked up the game – a rarity when it’s not discussing a controversial title – as CNN’s Mark Milian discussed Naughty Dog’s creative strategy and unusual means of storyboarding Uncharted. Interviewing creative director Amy Hennig on the game’s centerpiece moments, she revealed that the goals of such moments are not just for show, but also to become “signature pieces of the game.”

Asides from a well-spun character-driven story, the team also works on perfecting the controls of their games. The decision to make the Uncharted series a third-person action game, may seem obvious now, but with so many first-person shooters and opened-world titles flooding the market it’s easy to be tempted. However, while some in the industry have panned games for their linearity, Uncharted manages to create scope without the open cities that have become so iconic in sandbox titles like Assassin’s Creed or Grand Theft Auto. With a stunning graphical engine to boot, it appears the team has alchemized a legendary series.

Being the one of the younger forms of media, games in popular culture are propelled by this childlike energy to create something fun. Though endearing, it game developers often make juvenile calls such as copying its competitors, using shocking content for shock value, and using gimmicks to make themselves popular. These actions gain publicity on the game industry, but not necessary for the right reasons.

For video games to become a respective form of media, it needs to mature and learn from its lumps. Are all three games in the Uncharted series utterly masterful without a signal issue, glitch or bug? Of course not. However, Naughty Dog does not put their efforts into perfecting every bit of their game, but understands that at each game’s core if a story isn’t interesting, a player doesn’t care and if the gameplay isn’t right the player doesn’t play.

Hopefully Naughty Dog has not reached the highest of high, but instead broken the glass ceiling for other developers.  While a title like Uncharted 3 can pride itself on being considered “the pinnacle of gaming”, without other’s being inspired to do the same the landscape of the industry is destined to grow barren.

Waggle Me This, Skyward Sword

This past weekend was New York Comic Con, a place where nerds, geeks and pop culture fiends alike gather along a sweat-filled showroom floor to meet creators, take pictures, and gawk at nerdlebrities .

The best part is when the sweat seeps into the carpet!

The best part is when the sweat seeps into the carpet!

There were also a lot of games on the floor: DC Comics had a demo of Batman: Arkham City, Square Enix showed off a generous demo for Final Fantasy XIII-2, and IGN and Sprint sponsored Uncharted 3 and Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 play-sessions.
However, what gained my attention and kept me staying in line, not once but three times, was The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword demo. The new addition to the Zelda series was the focal point of Nintendo’s booth with eight demo stations dedicated to the game, and each station with three different types of levels. A dungeon level that typical for any Zelda title, a boss battle that showed-off Link’s new enemy Ghirahim, and last but not least was a bird riding level where Link partakes is race on a giant bird to capture a tiny statue on the back of another bird.
The demos themselves have been covered to death by several gaming sites, however playing the demos myself gave me new insight into the game, and it wasn’t a very pleasant one.

When first selecting the bird racing level, the Nintendo attendant at the booth gave me a look and said, “Okay, but this race is a bit tricky.” The fact that the attendant was warning me about this level before it had even loaded was already a pretty bad sign.

Awww look at the stupid bird and its stupid face!

Awww look at the stupid bird and its stupid face!

The controls were really disorientating, using the Wii Nunchuck to control the bird, while making flapping motions with the remote while also steering it along. Not to mention there are other people in this race knocking you around while flying to gain the statue for themselves. It took me at least 10 minutes to beat the level, after flying out of screen or nose-diving into oblivion a few dozen times. When I went back on line again to play a different demo, I heard another Nintendo attendant reassure a player, “It’s alright; it took me like 45 minutes to get the statue!”

What seems to be the killer with these third-person 3D action-adventure games is that without that thumb-stick to control camera, seeing targets is next to impossible.

During my battle demo with Ghirahim, it became growingly more frustrating to focus my camera on him given that he moves so quickly. Timing in games is critical, and this is especially true in Zelda titles. Fighting most bosses requires the player to watch their movements, looking for an opening and timing when to attack. While doable during the demo, it was incredibility infuriating to fight with the camera to catch Ghirahim’s nimble movements.

 

You can tell he's the bad guy because he's androgynous!

You can tell he's the bad guy because he's androgynous!

A few months back, I wrote a column about my experience with the Wii title from last holiday season Epic Mickey, a game with an interesting story that was crippled by funky controls and a terrible camera. My experience with the Skyward Sword demo, fighting with the Wii’s lack of camera control and second guessing my wrist movements with the motion controls, brought me back to my frustrating Epic Mickey play-through.

Girl, you better be worth 100 hours of waggle to save!

Girl, you better be worth 100 hours of waggle to save!

I want to love Skyward Sword, unlike the vocal majority I think the art style is pretty and I’m interested in the story, but the Wii’s controls worry me. Skyward Sword is not a short game, as Shigeru Miyamoto mentioned in a pre-Tokyo Game Show press conference, it could take anywhere between 50 – 100 hours to finish. I just wonder how many players are willing to spend that much time waggling their controllers.

Proper Casually Hardcore

The term “casual gamer” is a trendy label that’s being thrown around a lot recently. Typically, this title is used to describe the type of person who buys a popular console for a few games that is played sparsely outside of parties.

These players are the mass audiences that drag out the old plastic guitars for Guitar Hero to play after a few drinks with friends. On the other side of the spectrum is the “hardcore gamer,” the gamer-type that spends a surprising amount of leisure time playing video games. The dedication the hardcore gamer gives to their games is what separates them from the more dismissive nature of the casual gamer.

This kid will eff you up at Guitar Hero

This kid aint casual! He's proper hardcore at Guitar Hero, son!

Putting this into consideration, let’s consider the idea of an “intermediate gamer” that plays games consistently, spending more time than casual gamers, but far less than the hardcore.

Many analyses only break consumers into the two major groups, but I feel that there are probably more intermediate players lumped in with their hardcore counterparts.

Take for example the popularity of first-person shooter games on consoles. Whether it’s a Halo, Call of Duty or Gears of War, these games have a long shelf life due to online multiplayer and downloadable content of extra maps for players. Gamers can play these types of games for months without having to purchase another title for further amusement.

Then there are the action adventure games such as Uncharted or Assassin’s Creed” which have strong single player game-play with a strong story line. Granted, side quest and hunting for achievements or trophies can keep a gamer entertained for a bit, it doesn’t have the re-playability that shooter possess.

Though, I'll replay you anytime, Nathan Drake.

Though, I'll replay you anytime, Nathan Drake.

The gamer who buys two action adventure games to get the same longevity of a shooter doesn’t necessarily mean they are a more hardcore gamer. However, there could also be the gamer who enjoys only playing Assassin’s Cree  for the sense of place and cutting Templars with swords bring them a lot of satisfaction.There are also the gamers who just play the newest shooters for online multiplayer with their friends and once their friends move on to a new game, stop playing entirely. I believe these types of players are the intermediates; they’re aware of the big-name games that are released for consoles, play them seriously, but the games do not take up the concerning amount of their time, like the hardcore players.

It’s unfair to say the casual player is only an older adult who only plays Farmville and Wii Sports. What separates casual from hardcore and intermediate is the amount of knowledge they possess on games as a whole.

"I may be only level 5 on PSN, but I'm on the leader-board for Super Stardust, bitch!"

"I may only be level 5 on PSN, but I'm on the top 20 leader-board for Super Stardust, bitch!"

 

Take my mother for example: a woman who hates Facebook games of all sorts, and doesn’t find the Wii enjoyable since it becomes too exhausting. However, over the summer she sat up until the wee hours of the night playing Sony’s baseball title “MLB: The Show.” She spent her time playing games, building her own franchise and unlocking trophies. While my mother had the dedication of a hardcore gamer, it was only for this particular title. There are gamers, especially those on a tight budget, who buy one game and become a hardcore player of that certain game.

Whether it’s World of Warcraft, Pokemon, or Starcraft, the ability to be seen as a hardcore player is there, but it isn’t being acknowledged.

It appears the gaming community is getting too attached to being labeled, as if it’s some sort of elitist social status. It seems labeling a gamer “hardcore” gives experienced gamers and excuse to hate a genre of games that they believe are beneath them. It’s becoming more apparent now that motion control is being used to lure a mass audience to video games, and these “hardcore” gamers are the first to poo-poo such additions. Not only does this make hardcore gamers seem like arrogant jerks who just sit around all day level grinding, it makes casual gamers seem like lost sheep being controlled by marketing to buy 15 different kind of plastic instruments for Rock Band.
The addition of this middle gamer can level the playing field, making it more acceptable to like more kinds of games on a less intimidating level. There’s also a chance that some of these casual gamers will move beyond their basic games and become curious of new types of games.

The Wii U and You

Not much has been said about the Wii U since Nintendo’s E3 Press Conference last summer. Even the system’s launch date and lineup has been kept quiet, as the company has pushed their newest handle, the Nintendo 3DS, to center stage.

While it could be because the console is still in its infancy, industry guru Michael Pachter questions the kind of affect the Wii U can bring to Nintendo’s sales. Though he thinks the console is ambitious, he points to the tough sell the company may have on its hands.

“It’s a new console, with new controls and architecture, but it’s not quite ‘next’ generation,” he said in an interview with Industry Gamers. “Developers have to contend with differences between the Wii U and current generation consoles, then have to figure out what to do with the controls. The timing is still up in the air, and as far as I know, there are no significant third party exclusives; instead, we’ll see iterations of third party games already on the market, which is unlikely to drive significant hardware sales.”

When first launched in 2006, what the original Wii had going for it was that it was different from any other console on the market. Innovative for its time, the idea of motion control added a new layer of accessibility which broadened the gaming market, creating the casual gamer. Besides that, it came bundled with Wii Sports, a game everyone then used to show their friends and family the capabilities of the system.

Woah! Nice Waggle!

Woah! Nice Waggle!

In order for the Wii U’s launch to be as successful as Nintendo hopes, they’re going to need two things: a compelling launch-titles, and a competitive price.

Even though its strongest classic launch title was The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, the Wii’s momentum was good enough to keep the system afloat for several years by releasing the occasional Mario game. However, the company has since grown lazy as a first-party developer, and the Wii has since be overrun with mediocre children’s games and boring shovelware.

Enough Shovelware

Down with shovelware! No more Jenga!

For the Wii U, Nintendo will need to step-up their first party titles, as well as lure some high profile third-party developers for a solid launch lineup. They’re going to have to prove that the system is not just more Wii, but a different console that is worth developing for and buying at launch to kickstart its sales.

Though, most importantly, Nintendo is going to need to learn from the mistakes they’ve made with the 3DS release.

Much like the Wii, the DS handheld systems had been incredibility popular and the company believed that they could rely on the success of its predecessor to push the 3DS forward. However, with a high price-point and lackluster launch lineup, the handheld suffered and was forced to endure a price-cut before seeing positive sales.

Nevertheless, there is still so little known about the Wii U, though as seen from Nintendo’s past, it’s difficult to predict a hugely successful launch unless they get their act together.