May 23, 2015 § Leave a comment
A great deal has been written about the final scene in this week’s episode of Game of Thrones. For those of you oddly occupying the centre of a venn diagram of “haven’t seen it” and “want to read about it” then a short summary would go thusly: Winterfell, home to the mostly murdered Stark family, has been unceremoniously taken over by the Boltons, a family so evil they might as well have a sigil comprised of a man being tortured (Oh wait). However, the local people, as well as the north more broadly, unsurprisingly takes issue with such a well regarded house being replaced with a family who comes from a place as evil a sounding as the “Dreadfort.” In an attempt to lend the Bolton’s at least a fraction of legitimacy, Sansa Stark (the last known true heir of Winterfell) is trafficked to marry Ramsey Bolton. After a wedding that involves little of the ceremony that the series is known for (read: death), Sansa is taken back to Ramsey’s room and is raped in order to consummate the marriage.
The scene is uncomfortable, it is unpleasant, and it unambiguous in its utter revulsion at what is happening. There is no suggestion that Sansa might in any way be complicit in what is happening (as was the case in Series 4 with Cersei), and nothing about the scene sexualises what is going on. It is, to my mind, a scene which is shot in a tonally appropriate way.
So where is the controversy?
February 16, 2015 § Leave a comment
It’s not hard to remember a time when Kickstarter appeared to be the solution to all of the video game industry’s woes. Projects such as the Double Fine adventure, the Oculus Rift, and Elite: Dangerous proved that a combination of ambition and fan support was all that a producer required to get their idea off the ground.
It wasn’t long before the cracks started to show. The Double Fine adventure (eventually titled ‘Broken Age’) was split into two parts of which the Kickstarter backers would only receive the first, development of the Oculus Rift has necessitated the company being bought by Facebook, Elite: Dangerous was released to decidedly middling reviews, and that’s without even mentioning the Ouya. It would be an exaggeration to say that Kickstarter has been an abject failure, but as time passes it appears more and more as though crowd-funding should be seen as a supplement to, rather than a complete replacement of, more traditional funding models.
Godus is the most recent project to have courted controversy. After a turbulent development period that saw the mobile version being prioritised over the full PC version (itself delayed with no release date set), and the winner of a key promotional competition being ignored for months, the previous head of development has taken the decision to pass the reigns on to someone else within the studio to allow them to bring the project back under control.
Normally this wouldn’t be big news, Kickstarters spiral out of control all the time. It’s the nature of video game development, costs start to ramp up, unforeseen technical and design problems crop up, and before anyone realises the project runs out of budget. Under traditional funding models which see a deep-pocketed publisher footing the bill this is a tricky situation, but when a project is crowd-funded developers have significantly fewer options. The result in most cases is a cancelled game and public embarrassment for the developer.
Godus is different for one simple reason, and that simple reason is Peter Molyneux.
October 13, 2014 § Leave a comment
Pulling up to a t-junction, I ease off the accelerator and, applying a little bit of brake, quickly shift into a lower gear to avoid stalling. I’m five, maybe four car-lengths away from the junction now so I indicate left and turn my attention to the right, scanning the oncoming traffic for a gap large enough to fit a lorry (complete with a delivery of three forklift trucks bound for a quarry in the south of France) through.
My driver yawns slightly as I pull out into the turning and, once I’m happily onto the straight road, I take a moment to glance down at the dashboard, mentally noting and make a note of my low fuel levels. Neither my driver’s fatigue nor the amount of petrol in the tank are cause for concern; thanks to the ample amount of time on the clock I can plan for an overnight stop just south of Paris, where I should also be able to refuel.
A short EuroTunnel ride later and its starting to rain. Windscreen wipers on, headlights set to half-beam, and the dulcet tones of a podcast… Suddenly I’m fourteen years old again, being driven down the M4 after a long weekend spent with extended family. The sounds of the road are muted by watertight windows, and the warmth of the car breeds that feeling of safety you can never quite recapture once you’re old-enough to recognise your parents flaws.
August 19, 2014 § Leave a comment
Back in the days when I wasn’t really sure what the internet was for I used to buy the ‘Official Playstation 2 Magazine UK’ on a fairly regular basis. That monthly trip down to the newsagent was one filled with great anticipation – an act which provided my only real connection with the wider gaming community. Back in those days of course, any publication of this type spent the majority of its time dealing in those staples of video game journalism, reviews and previews, but every month the editors of OPSM2 would fill their back pages with more opinionated content and one month this took the form of an article entitled:
“Haters of the Greats”
Actually, that probably wasn’t the title at all, but it’s the best I’ve got for you right now. At any rate, one particular complaint from the article felt especially relevant to me as I recently made my way through Tomb Raider (2013). The complaint was regarding Metal Gear Solid 2 (then a recent release for the Playstation 2) and, if memory serves, went something like as follows this:
“Imagine you are sitting in an amazingly powerful sports car, a Ferrari or a Porsche, one that’s capable of absolutely bombing it down the motorway. Except whenever you come close to putting your foot down, the owner of the car sitting in the passenger seat beside you forces you to pull over and look at pictures of his stupid children. The car is Metal Gear Solid 2, and the children are Hideo Kojima’s numerous cutscenes and endless radio conversations.”
Tomb Raider doesn’t include hours of radio conversations, nor does its story come anywhere close to the meta-insanity of MGS2. Nor, it must be said, are its cutscenes even particularly long but their problem is that they’re constant and invasive – at best, unnecessary and, at worst, actively in the way. You’ll be climbing up the most generic of cliffs, only for the game to pointlessly cut away to introduce the presence of enemies. You’ll be crossing a rushing stream, only for the game to take control away, purely to make the camera more shaky and ‘atmospheric’. You’ll be rushing a group of enemies, only for a cinematic to happen, and for Lara to dispatch them with no input from yourself.
July 15, 2014 § 1 Comment
“Movies and radio need no longer pretend to be art. The truth that they are just business is made into an ideology in order to justify the rubbish they deliberately produce. They call themselves industries; and when their directors’ incomes are published, any doubt about the social utility of the ﬁnished products is removed.”
– Horkheimer and Adorno, The Culture Industry, 1947
Complaints about the relationship between the quality of art and the profit-motive are nothing new. In 1947 the sociologists Max Horkheimer and Theo Adorno published ‘the Culture Industry’, an essay which attacked the commercialisation of art as a destruction of its true value. As they saw it, the moment profit becomes the motivating factor behind art it ceases to have value for its own merits, and instead all its value boils down to exchange value.
When this happens artists cease to ask any other questions beyond “What are people prepared to pay for my work?” and what they produce seeks not to challenge people’s opinions (as art should do), but rather to pander to their beliefs. It’s the Michael Bay approach to art, you give the people what they want, nothing more and nothing less, and everyone leaves the cinema happy. In a similar vein The Daily Mail tells people exactly what they want to hear, no matter how ill-informed or disgusting that might be, and so long as they get their profit then they’re happy.
Writing for the New Statesman, Simon Parkin has applied this same neo-Marxist critique to indie video games (at least this is what his title suggests, though later on the examples he cites are categorically not ‘indie’ games in the slightest), deriding the indie gaming community’s ‘obsession’ with moneymaking. It’s a well-written piece, and I think Parkin has a point, but I just can’t see the evidence for it within the indie gaming scene.
July 14, 2014 § Leave a comment
Last Friday Gamasutra’s Mike Rose posted an in-depth study into the ethics of paying for Youtube coverage after questions started to be raised that prominent ‘Youtubers’ are being paid to give favourable coverage to certain games. The theory goes that Youtube, and the ‘Youtubers’ who produce hours of footage of themselves playing and commenting on games are now as vital a marketing tool for video games as the more traditional print- and television-ads.
The dodgy thing about this, is that whilst it is (for example) obvious that the content between segments of a TV show is designed to sell rather than inform, the same cannot be said of Youtube content, when functionally a commentator enjoying a game appears the same no matter what the reason. At a certain point you have no idea whether their enjoyment is coming from the game itself, or the nice fat cheque that will be coming their way shortly.
At any rate it’s important to note that Gamasutra’s hypothesis appears to be true. 26% of Youtubers with over 5,000 subscribers reported that they had received money from publishers in exchange for recording videos. The fact that it happens is thus not up for debate. The real question is whether this is right or not.
Personally I’m inclined not to care.
July 3, 2014 § Leave a comment
For whatever reason, the console warfare between Sony and Microsoft seems to have cooled off of late. There was a time around the launch of the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 when the internet was filled with vitriolic bile from fans of both consoles, with both sides arguing for the superiority of their own console and the flaws of its nearest competitor. We had to endure pages of arguments on internet message boards, patronising Youtube videos and even executives who couldn’t hide their distaste for the competition.
Nowadays the immature smack-talk feels like it’s fallen out of fashion. Initially I thought it might just be the sites I’m spending my time on nowadays, but Keith Stuart at the Guardian has noticed a similar trend. He notes that upon the North American launch of the Playstation 4, the official Xbox twitter account sent out a message of congratulations, which was later responded to amicably by Shuhei Yoshida of Sony Worldwide Studios. Far from welcoming this age of civility however, Stuart laments the loss of the “conflict and chaos” of yesteryear and the “great art” that emerges from it, and I couldn’t disagree more.