Category Archives: Gaming

We’ve Delivered our Citizen Kane, Now Give Gaming an Oscars Ceremony (Op-Ed)

The Last of Us, tech, gaming, awards
 

Hollywood’s most celebrated actors, actresses and directors are, by now, finalising their outfits and having their manicures in preparation for the impending Oscars ceremony on 2 March. It’s considerably quieter over in the games industry.

Games do of course have their own festivals. The British Academy Games Awards, which will be held on 12 March, are perhaps the most high profile but even these attract limited coverage in comparison to the BAFTAs and are eclipsed by the Oscars and literary awards such as the Man Booker prize. And for the rest of the year, the mainstream media continues to devalue games while filling column inches with serious reviews of theatre, opera and film.

The Oscars provides legitimacy for all different types of film, from blockbuster action to documentaries to foreign productions. It brings the artistic value of film into the mainstream – a job that really needs to be done for games.

This attitude might have been more appropriate when games were very much a niche interest but the sheer scale of the industry these days legitimates it as a popular cultural form. In 2014 the total value of the global videogaming industry will outstrip Hollywood, and not for the first time. Revenues are projected to grow to close to $90 billion by 2017 and the culture is now practically ubiquitous, with nearly 60% of American households and around 40% of 16-49 year olds in the UK playing games.

But are games art? The absence of their presence in the mainstream media would suggest not. Part of the explanation for this absence may simply be that a large number of the over 40s who dominate the media don’t play. They also lack obvious icons, which are central in theatre, literature or film, and can be seen as trivial.

But as long ago as 1993, the French scholars Alain and Frédéric Le Diberder identified games as the tenth great art form and the growing academic legitimacy of videogames also suggests they are worthy of consideration as art. But the university courses that do exist still tend to place an emphasis on design, programming and animation and not on interrogating the artistic and critical value of games. This is striking in comparison to theatre studies, literature, film or music studies, all of which have their artistic value cemented within university programmes specifically designed to interrogate them critically.

But is it art?

So universities and the media – two important players in defining what makes art – have failed to keep pace with the rapid changes in videogaming. What they don’t appear to realise is that games now offer rich stories and evocative aesthetic experiences.

Historically it has been said that gaming would not make its cultural mark until it could deliver its own Citizen Kane – a game that would make you cry. Well, many would argue that this has already happened, and still the recognition has not arrived.

The Heavy Rain trailer

Heavy Rain, a film-noir style game about a series of murders, was released in 2010 and enjoyed mainstream commercial success. It opened up questions about interactive storytelling by explicitly asking players “how far will you go to save someone you love?”

Games such as the Walking Dead show a powerful bond between protagonists and Sony’s own The Last of Us similarly uses an apocalyptic scenario to develop a powerful narrative based on the bond between gruff survivalist Joel and a young girl, drawing parallels with Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

The speed of these developments is striking. In 2013, Papers Pleaseused gameplay to bring emotional connection to decisions about whether or not the player in their role as an immigration official should allow entry of immigrants and asylum seekers.

Gone Home, released last year, provided an evocative space for the exploration of a teenager’s struggles and transition towards adulthood and The Stanley Parable allowed for powerful reflection on morality, ethics and choice.

Games have also begun to use aesthetic in extremely powerful and moving ways. Journey, for example, provides a beautiful landscape and allows the player to pair up on line with an anonymous partner to explore together. The effect is totally arresting.

Then, on the political front, acknowledging games as art becomes part of the UK debate about whether the industry should receive tax breaks. Many would argue that it should, given the increasingly important place of digital creativity in the economy.

The debate about whether games are art is crucial in limiting the desires by some politicians to provide excessive regulation of violent content, particularly in the US. Politically, we are often far more tolerant of violence in films, for example, because it is used for expressive purposes.

Cumulatively, the symbolic absence of an Oscars for games has political and social consequences as well as failing to acknowledge the importance of a medium that tells powerful stories and evokes strong emotion in its narratives and gameplay. As they vacuum the red carpet for the movie stars, it’s time for the Academy to start making room for this very modern form of art.

Thief PC – Xbox One PlayStation 4 PlayStation 3 Xbox 360

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There is a rising tide of fear in The City. Hatred saturates every stone and whilst the rich prosper, the less fortunate face misery and repression. Ravaged with sickness and famine, they wait for something to change.

Into this shadowy world steps Garrett, THE master thief in Thief, a reinvention of a franchise that helped define an entire genre of games. This first-person adventure features intelligent design that allows players to take full control, with freedom to choose their path through the game’s levels and how they approach and overcome each challenge.

Microsoft: We’re Still Committed To PC Gaming

Anyone who has spent some time playing on a gaming console knows just how it can take you to a whole new world (or dimension, if you want). However, there is something to be said about PC gaming, and everyone knows that that experience is hard to beat. Of course, that niche is also profitable.

Not too long ago, Microsoft has announced its commitment to PC gaming (or re-commitment, rather), but it might have been dealt a serious blow by Jason Holtman leaving.

hardware maddness

Jason who? Mister Holtman has the distinction of having been part of the Valve team, and he played a role in building Steam. More than enough PC gaming cred, right?

Well, in August last year, Holtman joined the ranks of Microsoft employees with the goal of taking Windows to a whole new gaming level – Windows as a platform for gaming as well as interactive entertainment. That, of course, bode very well for Microsoft especially considering its goals when it comes to PC gaming.

Yesterday, though, Microsoft confirmed that Jason Holtman has broken rank – not even reaching the six-month mark.

VG 24/7 quotes Microsoft’s official statement: “We can confirm that Jason has left Microsoft and we’re grateful for his time at the company. We wish him the best in his future endeavours.”

A very PR-y, canned response, but that is all we’re going to get at the moment. We don’t know what the real issue is, but one thing is for sure, according to Microsoft: PC gaming is still one of their commitments, and they have long-term plans for this niche.

Microsoft partner creative director Ken Lobb reiterates the company’s commitment to the PC and PC gamers:

“Now we’re one [unified] Microsoft. I don’t see this as pressure. I see it as an opportunity. We have more support internally to support PC more. That’s great! My only expectation would be, please let us continue to do that over a five-year period so we can have real impact. That’s how it feels right now. We’re getting very strong support internally. So we’re really going after PC.”

PC gamers, convinced or not?

Call of Duty: Ghosts Extinction

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Part of the DLC campaign for Call of Duty: Ghosts, Extinction is a 4-player, co-op game mode featuring a unique blend of fast-paced survival gameplay, base defense, player customization and class leveling. Teamwork and communication are essential when playing Extinction, as your team faces an inhuman menace that has overrun an isolated Colorado town and you must eliminate the threat via any means necessary.

At the start of the game, each member of the team chooses from one of several custom character classes – medic, engineer, tank, and weapon specialist. As the team battles through the streets of Caldera Peak, players earn currency that can be used to purchase a variety of upgrades and character abilities. The team can scavenge for special equipment and weapon mods left behind by previous, unsuccessful, military forces.

Extinction’s fast-paced survival combat features a series of intense base-defense scenarios. The team members must work together to hold off waves of alien attackers until each alien “hive” can be neutralized. The team can fortify their positions using a variety of military-issue and improvised defenses: electrified fences, fire traps, shock puddles, heavy weapon turrets, and drones. During each game session players will also earn Skill Points that can be used to buff their loadouts, enabling players to develop highly-specialized skill sets over the course of a single game. No two games are the same as the moment to moment upgrade decisions can dictate the strategies of the team. Team Challenges also allow teams to earn extra Skill Points, buffing their capabilities even further. Your overall objective is to destroy the alien threat with the help of a nuclear device. Once the team finds the nuke, they must arm it, race back through the town to escape on their chopper – mad dash race through an insane gauntlet of alien terror!

Release Date: Q1 2014
M For Mature: Blood, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Strong Language
GenreShooter
PublisherActivision
DevelopersInfinity Ward, Neversoft Entertainment

 

Diablo III: Reaper of Souls Preview

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Diablo III: Reaper of Souls is the first major expansion pack for Blizzard’s blockbuster dungeon crawling RPG. The Prime Evil rages within the Black Soulstone, its essence screaming for vengeance and release. Before the artifact can be sealed away forever, Malthael — Angel of Death — manifests in the mortal realms with a deadly new purpose: to steal the Black Soulstone and bend its infernal power to his will. So begins the end of all things…

Release Date: March 25, 2014
Genre: Third-Person Action

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag — Freedom Cry

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The first expansion episode for Ubisoft’s pirate adventure, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag — Freedom Cry is a four-plus hour adventure of nine missions featuring a new assassin character, Edward Kenway’s first mate Adewale. This episode explores what happens to Adewale fifteen years after he finds freedom from slavery onboard Kenway’s ship, on his own but trained in the art of assassination.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag — Freedom Cry is a stand-alone episode in the Assassin’s Creed universe, meaning that while the game runs on the Assassin’s Creed IV engine, players will not need to own a copy of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag to enjoy the game.

Release Date: February 25, 2014
GenreAction
PublisherUbisoft

Xbox One News: Microsoft Offers $100 Off on Old Console Trade In

Want to buy an Xbox One but don’t quite have $500 saved up yet? Still hanging on to that Xbox 360? PS3?

Well, today’s your lucky day.

Now through March 2, 2014, Microsoft Store is offering a $100 trade-in discount on the Xbox One for walk in customers at select retail outlets to use towards purchasing the new deck.

Just bring your dusty old Xbox 360, 360 E or PS3 along with about 400 bucks and you can walk out with the hottest gaming console of 2014. So far.

Wait. What? The PS3? What’s THAT all about?

In a move to stimulate sales of the pricey-ish Xbox One, Microsoft wants to wipe out the competition (even from itself) and erase the memories of 360 lovers and PS3 lovers by making the new console more affordable to gamers still sitting on the fence, waiting for the inevitable price drop.

Sounds great, but then there’s the small print.

Microsoft Offers Xbox One Discount

According to the announcement on Microsoft Store, the “product must power on and be in fully functional, working condition without broken/missing components, cracked display/housing or liquid damage, cannot be password protected, and include original chargers/accessories.”

What are the chances? Especially that “liquid damage” part.

Also, it’s not a cash deal. The offer is for store credit towards the same day purchase of an Xbox One.

And there’s always that scary euphemism, “UP TO $100″ based on condition and in-store appraisal of the trade-in equipment. Does that mean the retail associate makes the decision?

That seems like a lot of pressure to put on a lowly sales clerk. What are the chances some customers don’t get the full discount?

Well, Microsoft does reserve the right to pull the deal anytime before March 2, invoking the almighty “while supplies last” caveat.

Still, it sounds like a pretty good deal.

For everybody but Sony.

Photo source: Microsoft Store

Photo source: Microsoft Store