Saturday, 20 June 2015

manufactured culture

So I ended up watching a lot of game related E3 broadcasts and related again this year and I kinda wrote off a couple of days work by staying up till too late (it's winding down for this financial year so it's no problem) and here's a few random thoughts about it.

At a few points I was thinking "why am i doing this, i don't even care", but ahh well, you know how it is.

This was going to be a comment on some aspects of US culture but although it's mentioned in passing it's mostly just about games n shit.

For example I have almost no interest in Bethesda games almost entirely to the negative experience of Oblivion which I found unplayable and dull, yet I watched their conference live (4am or something?). I thought Doom looked pretty good and very Doomish although I never played more than a little bit of the original demo (about then is when i stopped playing games until getting a PS2), Fallout looked a bit clunky, but its unlikely i'll play either of them. I though the whole falloutshelter "we made a free-to-play mobile game that doesn't suck!" thing was pretty obnoxious as it seems its just as exploitative as any other game in getting people to spend money without realising they are, for nothing.

EA's was pretty cringeworthy. Apart from "Yarnie" Unravel which looked like a cool physics puzzle game with photorealistic setups. Need for speed looked pretty but the game itself was utterly attrocious. The best part is that I learnt of a new musical style "trap" which i can only guess means techno-rap, but whatever it's called it sounds like shit. But as is eluded to in the title of this post, apparently people like these sort of directed & manufactured experiences. There's no way I could play a game with such constant patronising encouragement, phrases such as "Doing great!" "You're nearly there!" - like the player is only 2 years old. I muted and ignored all the other sports stuff and I can't remember the rest.

Don't care about anything M$ or Nintendo so didn't bother. Apparently M$' big thing was backward compatibility which seems to be implemented using code translation (i.e. compilation of opcodes); which would have been a nice have on launch but even then would have been an investment they would never recoup (which duh, is why they didn't bother). But doing it now so late after launch just seems irresponsible to their shareholders. The WiiU was a failure from inception and that seems to be dying a silent death although the faithful haven't noticed yet (I was an Amiga guy so I know all about that).

The Dark Souls 3 trailer looks suitably bleak and terrifying although I haven't gone back to Demon's Souls since dying on some bridge for the 3rd time last time I gave it ago, so its probably not something i'll ever have the time to play.

I saw most of the Square E[e]nix one but i can't remember much. Apparently there was some odd flare-up on the internets over the use of 'apartheid' in the press conference which was born a combination of Americentrism, ignorance, and sheer stupidity (i.e. "hey look internet i'm so lazy i can't even be bothered to use a dictionary and just make up the meaning of words to suit my political agenda!"). But the word was used correctly in an appropriate context for the game, although the trademark of 'Mechanical Apartheid' (iirc) seems a little odd in the real world.


Sony was sort of interesting in that it was the most impressive to fans but perhaps not the most interesting to me - they had so many bombastic announcements some of the smaller titles got missed. It was a real shame No Man's Sky release date announcement was apparently postponed which seemed to deflate Sean on stage visibly.

Seeing The Last Guardian at the start actually made tears start to swell in my eyes although they didn't break the surface. I'm not sure why really as although I do quite like ICO I only finished it once and couldn't even get past the first puzzle on the 'HD' version (pretty much the reason I got PS+ a couple of years ago). But the animation has such a believability to it i'm not surprised they couldn't get it running on the PS3 and the fact that it looks like a real living and breathing animal was quite mesmerising. On the shitty stream the graphics didn't look much better than I remembered from the PS3 version apart from some better textures but later I saw some better shots and the detail increase is significant.

I really couldn't give a shit about FF7 but maybe i'll play it if it gets modernised nicely (the PS1 game hasn't aged well, I bought it on PS3 ages ago but didn't get very far, but they probably can't modernise it without pissing some anal retard off) and I have no idea what Shenmue even is but apparently they have a following. I really think the whole kickstarter approach should have been far more transparent, but that's something for another day.

Star Wars (battlefront?) looks pretty authentically-good but i'm not really into Star Wars much myself and particularly not multiplayer games. I can see it selling absolutely gangbusters this xmas though.

Horizon - Zero Dawn however. Wow. And the more we find out the better it sounds. It looks fantastic, the lead character looks and moves amazingly, combat looks fluid and seamless, the world is interesting. And no fucking loading screens. The first time i saw it i wasn't a fan of the US accent of the actress (clearly chosen on purpose), but I suppose it's unavoidable in this day and age for something which is obviously going for massive mainstream appeal and the voiceover was just for the trailer anyway. Hmnm, wonder if we'll be able to play it with swedish or russian voice and english subtitles or something more fitting.

Guerrilla always seem to get a lot of undeserved fanboy hate but they are really a top-tier studio with amazing technology and art. It will be interesting to see where a fuck-ton of money and really talented and technically proficient team can take the RPG genre and how the competitors respond given that their usual jank-fests and silly mechanics (like, oh dear, when did 'romancing' become popular?) are going to look a bit pedestrian.

The main character - Aloy - is a pretty bold move for such a major title simply for being a woman (sadly). They are definitely leaving some money on the table due to this choice (sadly). She seems an excellent design though; visually distinct (attractive but not some bland k-pop model), lithe and athletic without being pornographic, strong and determined yet inexperienced and slightly nervous. Very noble 'PR' poses. A lot of effort was put into that reveal trailer to convey all this information and hopefully others noticed little details like her swallowing gulp just before leaping into the frey. It was a tiny and seemingly inconsequential detail which conveyed so much humanity in an entirely artificial character.

Dreams was just a bit too disturbing to me. Looked more like ``Nightmares'' and i thought even the polar bears were a bit creepy. The technology looks pretty groundbreaking in lots of ways though so it'll be something i'll keep an eye on and apparently a lot more is to be presented about the "platform" in Paris later this year.

Oh, I almost forgot Uncharted. Awesome, thrilling, and fun ride as ever; and great technical achievement to boot. I still haven't opened uncharted 3 ... although i really really intend to one day. Oh shit, I almost forgot again. So one of the big things about the uncharted demo was apart from actually being played live it had this really awesome car chase sequence that just seemed to go on forever - the amount of work for just a couple of minutes play just seemed astounding. People gushed (or disbelieved it wasn't a cut-scene). Not to downplay it in any way but it looked to me much like really excellent maze design. It appears as if you're making random heat of the moment decisions but in reality you're crossing a couple of connected areas which wrap around and always put you in the place you're supposed to go. I could definitely see how this was inspired by ICO although of course mazes go back to the very first computer games ever created and indeed maze games predate computers by some centuries (millennia?).

Morpheus finally has some real games but without a unit who can say what they're like. Battlezone looked nice though (Oh man would The Sentinal work well with it). I should really get hold of some sort of vr headset to play with it was the sort of thing I dreamt of when I was playing on the C64.

Smaller things

So with all these big things most small things got shunted out of the way. And unfortunately all the 'small independent media' I saw has fallen into the same trap as the 'msm' in that they only want to cover the biggest stories and pretty much ignored everything. So the only way to find out about most of them was the Sony show-floor live broadcasts and their PR pitch spots.

Some are out this year but like some of the big ones most are next year.

But there are some kinda strange games being made.

Thumper was some sort of rez-ish rhythm game with a beetle (!!) racing down a hot-wheels track and some very simple controls where you have to time presses and it creates the music beats. It started so slow on the first level that it looked boring as shit but the host on the show was mesmerised by the graphics so much he kept forgetting to talk so there must be something to it. I think that the end of level 'marker' (i didn't catch the context) was called "crack-head" really says it all; it's pretty much a game for having drug-induced trips to. The guy selling it seems to have had a bit too many mushrooms but he was trying pretty hard to sell it (sorry i'm being overly harsh here, it must be seriously nerve racking as hell trying to promote your baby). But it could have a bit of a cult following because technically it looks pretty competent.

Hellblade is being made by Ninja Theory as a 'low-budget triple-a title' but unfortunately although it looks like they're doing a fair job on the art and systems the subject matter pretty much guarantees it is going to be an abject failure commercially. Mental illness and entertainment don't really go hand in hand to me. It just seems such an odd decision to use serious mental illness as the basis for something so commercial as making games, this is the sort of art that needs patronage. If you know someone with serious mental illness you may not want to be reminded of it (one of my late cousins for example), and if you don't you may not want to face it. I don't know where the time and place is for such a thing but it just doesn't seem to be here to me, but I guess so long as it doesn't send them out of business they may have other goals in mind for their work which they will reach and be satisfied with; I hope so.

Divinity Original Sin (enhanced?) looks pretty neat. I think I saw something about it previously and my interest was piqued until i saw some of the menus and it just seemed way more complicated than I really wanted to bother with (i.e. too much a modern microsoft windows game). But I saw a more detailed playing and it looked pretty nice on console and reminds me of much older games so I might have to have a look when it comes out. It still looks pretty complicated and i'm not sure how well it will play solo but i'm inclined to try it out. I can't remember if i ever ended up playing Bulders Gate 2 on PS2 - I have the disk - I should check to see if i could be bothered with that sort of game again.

Relativity was a weird little puzzle game that I just chanced upon at random on the Sony stream. A sort of gravity puzzle game with a really nifty wrap-around thing going on. The aeshetic is really nice with a simple clean 'vector graphex' visuals which screams 'VR' although I think in VR you might end up falling off your chair. Anyway it looks very cool and the guy making it seems pretty switched on.

There were a few others of the stream i've seen so far but those were the ones that piqued my interest the most and I wouldn't mind seeing a bit more of The Tomorrow Children which has been expanded substantially from the alpha into a real game; although its not that far out and I might just buy it instead.

Update: One I did forget: I saw Mad Max somewhere, maybe Sony or Gametrailers or both. I don't think it's my type of game but it did look interesting for that type of game. Very mad max 2 look to it (from what i remember, it's not a tie in to the current one) although the colours in the demo bit could use a bit of a red (probably? not in australia?).


Apart from the Sony stuff I watched an embarrassing amount of the gametrailers broadcasts. I tried a few other streams and the presenters or advertising was insufferable so they were pretty much the least-offensive left over. I don't really bother with reviews these days (if only because i rarely bother with games) but they also seem about the closest to objective in their reviews or at least the closest to my tastes. I didn't bother with giantbomb because they're just a bunch of arseholes, nor Geoff Keighly not because he isn't fairly likeable and a decent presenter, he's just too obviously licking arseholes and the advertising is a bit too irritating. I saw a couple from the "kinda funny" guys but they just are just "kinda not funny at all". One is too campy and obnoxious and the other is just a fuckwit, and every time an ad came on the recording reset to the start(?). Youtube streaming also pretty shit; it doesn't work at all on one of my machines and usually requires a login on the other (gotta get that identity tracking locked in and matched to your credit card), so i mostly used twitch which was fine for the most part.

Viewing the the GT broadcast was kind of like being outside of a room of people having inane conversations and passively listening through a window. But anyway I did learn some strange things about american culture which probably explains some other strange things i've seen about the inability of people to grasp No Man's Sky. This is where I saw some interesting stuff about Divinity and some of the other big games.

So firstly, grown men actually have significant emotional attachment and genuine love for Disney characters and cheap plastic dolls (aka 'action figures'). I've seen quite a bit of interest in games like kingdom hearts which I never understood for a game I thought was targeted at 7 year old kids. This probably also helps explain mario's popularity despite being so old and stale (and lots of tv shows for the same reason).

Secondly, for people who apparently follow these things closely they seemed remarkably clueless and misinformed about details or too easily miss something from a trailer (apparently their trade). Something can be right before their eyes and they just don't see it. They had a big argument about No Man's Sky and the GT VO had a heated argument repeatly saying 'well what do you do', or 'they haven't shown this before' when some of what he was complaining about was actually visible in the first Sony trailer, it just wasn't explicitly explained in intricate detail (things like mining, combat, economy, i.e. gameplay mechanics).

No Man's Sky

I'm not sure why it matters exactly but I was hoping to find out a bit more about No Man's Sky - and slowly bits and pieces are trickling out.

In earlier press we learnt that Sean spent some time in Australia in his childhood, but not only the typical Australian beachy experience but the full-blown outback which few of us locals have really experienced. This gives one a very different outlook on both scale and our position in the universe; the broadness of the horizon, personal isolation, and the spectacle of the milky way is something you can't experience in England or any city. The milky way is 'milkier' in the southern hemisphere to start with. I find cities pretty distateful to start with but i also found Boston somewhat claustrophobic when outdoors and I also found the 'personal space' distance a little too close for comfort in the US.

Like we did as kids he also got pirated games on his Commodore 64 with no instruction manuals and basically the first response to starting a game was just typed every key in turn and wrote down what they did. He surely must have played Mercenary which was one of the first ever 3D 'open world' adventure games, which is all the buz these days; and hopefully one that has a revival one day.

I'm really rambling here but what I'm getting at is that I can understand why he doesn't want to talk much about the mechanics of his game. Its not because they don't exist its because he wants people to learn for themselves because that learning experience is not only more enjoyable for him, it is also a much more fundamental to the purpose of play. The journey and learning process is always more interesting than the end.

On forums and broadcasts including gametrailers a constant refrain has been 'but what do you do!' 'tell me why i should play this game!' This is absurd. First, make up your own fucking mind; you're an adult. Secondly, what would you think of anyone who refused to watch a soap opera like Game of Thrones for the sole reason that they didn't know how it ended? You'd think they were a stupid idiot, and rightly so. (fwiw i have zero interest in shitty soap-operas like that, but if people do more power to them).

The other odd refrain that constantly comes up specifically about this game is 'but why would i want to [go to the centre of the galaxy]' (the main stated end-goal of the game). Umm, because that's the fucking game? I mean why do you want to get to the end of any game level? It likewise has no bearing on the real world and likewise has no true point - OUTSIDE OF THE MECHANICS OF THE GAME.

It is also clear that plenty of people have absolutely no idea of the scale of the game and that lots of mechanics used in many games just can't work at that scale. "I want to build a home base", "I want to kill everything" (ugh, bloody americans), "I want to team up with my pals". The last one is odd because sharing the "experience" is something anyone can and will be doing anyway; just external to the game itself via this new-fangled thing called the internet.

There was an interesting interview with Sean where he said one of the things that commonly happens within the first hour of the game is that people just keep get lost. They wander off into the wilds and then they realise they don't know where their ship is. With no constant GPS and minimap reminder people have forgotten how to use landmarks for navigation, particularly while in a game which adds even more design to stop you getting lost. And even so-called 'open world' games the actually game worlds are either so small or they are designed in such a way as to forcibly orient you in a way that prevents you getting lost. Living in cities this is a skill that isn't terribly necessary but one that could easily cost you your life in the outback or any other wild place.

Another interesting point he made was in regards to NPCs and quests in games. No Man's Sky has no fixed quests or job boards (it would simply be impossible to do this) but instead most things you do can earn you currency in a more organic way. i.e. there is no one-time quest from some old man to collect 3 wayward hens but if you discover 3 fish on a planet you still effectively earn the same result. That's not the interesting bit; the interesting bit is that the former is actually a horribly illusion-breaking mechanic that shouts 'this is a scripted game' and breaks the illusion of any sort of role playing; despite this being the primary job method by which all role playing games have operated for decades. Because of the scale of the game a job board would be impossible, but by needing for it to be removed a game system can be put in place instead which does a better job of maintaining the illusion of the game world.

Anyway, it's terribly sad to see the state of some vocal (minority?) people who shit on games like this for having no reason to play it (it's the game, fucknut), or driveclub for being too linear. The point of driveclub isn't to earn all the trophies (which seems to be the main reason some people play games), it's to have FUN driving an exotic car around a cool location. And why the FUCK would you want to drive in a city? What a horrible horrible waste of a car! But i digress.

Who knows, I may only play it for an hour anyway, but I really want to play No Man's Sky when I can.

Oh so another thing as an engineer I take away from these game shows is just the sheer scale of the software undertaking of some of these games. Wow. Makes me feel like a bit of a shit coder, or perhaps just that i could be doing something more interesting than I am as that was the sort of thing I played with more 25 years ago before working on 'desktop apps' (sigh).

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