E3 2014 Overview

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Whoo, buddy. E3 2014 was my first time to the big show, and what a show it was. All three companies came out swinging with solid showings, highlighting a variety of titles that seem to have a great deal of potential. For Sony, I found myself most interested in their reveal of LittleBigPlanet 3 and Uncharted 4 (though I’m really hoping that installment isn’t the end of the line for the series). Microsoft wowed me with its Master Chief Collection. That’s the sort of fan service that I’ve only ever seen come from a company like Nintendo, but I don’t think even its ever done anything as ambitious as what Microsoft is attempting. Nintendo, though, ran away with the show, as far as I’m concerned. Nearly every game on its show floor was a must-have, and the lineup was packed with both familiar faces and pleasant surprises. All in all, Nintendo had the complete package, and it was very apparent.

So, here’s looking forward to the rest of this year and beyond, and please check out my little gallery of pics, below!

 

Intermission

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Getting tired of the semi-hiatus here at Retro(spective)? (All five of you, I mean). Me, too! I did warn everyone though, so I’m not losing too much sleep over it, but still, nothing worse than dead air. What can I say, school has been a beast lately, Nintendojo (which you all should be reading) always has something percolating, and well, I can’t write about games if I don’t play them! Summer approaches, though, so expect things to start getting livelier as we move deeper into June.

Mario Kart 8 will be getting the old review treatment, and expect the same for Tomodachi Life, too. Beyond that, E3 is going to be huge. What I don’t post for Nintendojo will be here, so look forward to hands-on time with whatever amazingness lies in wait for this year’s show. I’d also like to point out, Retro(spective)’s one year anniversary is also fast approaching! Maybe I’ll… give something away in celebration! Exciting times await, dear readers! I hope you’ll all be along for the ride.

In Defense of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes’ Ending

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Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers for all of you who haven’t seen the end of MGSV: Ground Zeroes.

“There’s a bomb in my…”, Paz trails off, as she jumps from the helicopter in order to save her rescuers from the impending explosion building within her. It’s a powerful moment, as the player realizes that Paz, who was a traitor in Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, is sacrificing herself in order to save the very person she betrayed. It’s also powerful, or at least jarring, to realize the implications of where the bomb is inside her, exactly. Players had just been subjected to the sight of Snake and a medic removing a bomb from her stomach, sans painkillers. Blood, guts, and screaming filled the scene, which was brutal to watch. Thinking she was safe, it was more than surprising when she declared they’d missed another explosive hidden away. It’s this moment, however, that is stirring up controversy across the internet, because the implication is pretty explicit that the bomb is either between her legs or in her anus.

There’s really no other place for it to be, though I will grant that it doesn’t necessarily mean there wasn’t another bomb in her stomach that they simple missed. However, if it were that straightforward, I’d think that Ground Zeroes‘ director Hideo Kojima would have made it so. It is then reasonable to assume it was, for all intents and purposes, an intentionally vague descriptor. The resulting speculation has lead many to decree Kojima incapable of the mature storytelling he claimed to be striving for with this twist, that it was just more violence and abuse against women in media. Which is unfounded, for a number of reasons.

First of all, Paz had a history that exists beyond the confines of Ground Zeroes. Again, her story is detailed in Peace Walker exhaustively, and to a lesser, though no less illuminating, extent in the recordings scattered about the game. People have complained that Paz was simply female fodder, but the truth is that her actions had come full-circle that night and culminated in her death. She also goes out somewhat redeemed, too, because rather than kill everyone else on the chopper, she hurls herself into the sea, instead. Ignoring the sexual implications of her murder, the ending itself for this character was tragic, but part of a greater narrative.

To segue just a bit to the narrative of MGS, there’s also no escaping that Ground Zeroes is one of many games in the series. Just because it might be the first exposure for some players, that doesn’t excuse an ignorant dismissal of the overarching story at play. To say Paz is just randomly inserted and used as a piece of meat is ludicrous. It’s like stepping into an episode of a TV show and claiming that a story element is inappropriate or out of place without doing the slightest bit of research to see where it fits within the greater context of the series. The tapes that catch players up on the story are enough of a resource, but the player bears some responsibility to educate themselves beforehand knowing they’re arriving in the middle of a story.

Still, going back to the real crux of the issue, it’s the notion that Paz suffered some form of rape or sexual abuse prior to her death that’s primarily stoking so many people’s ire. The popular sentiment being that it’s more of the pro-male, anti-female dogma so common in today’s video games. While I strongly support the initiative by those who would prefer to see stronger female leads and characters in the industry, I don’t see what happened to Paz as a blow against that. To repeat, her story isn’t limited to Ground Zeroes. Paz is, to a degree, paying for her own past transgressions. Paying, I fully acknowledge, in one of the worst ways possible, but to address another criticism of the game, audiences have no entitlement to see a narrative end as they please. Like a movie, TV show, or book, sometimes the ending doesn’t feel justified, but that doesn’t mean the creators did something wrong.

There’s this odd opinion that because Ground Zeroes‘ gameplay was fun and compelling, that to kill Paz so horribly at the end didn’t feel earned. That by virtue of playing the game and going through all that trouble to save her, she should have lived. I myself noted much the same thing in my own review of the game. There’s a difference, though, between being letdown and something being inappropriate. From a pure enjoyment perspective, the ending of Ground Zeroes is a letdown. It’s a killjoy. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong, though. It’s like the ending of Inception, wanting to see that top stop spinning, and it never does. It’s frustrating, but it’s not out of bounds. Sometimes, things don’t work out the way we want them to, and that includes narratives. It happens all the time in entertainment, so I see no reason to subject Ground Zeroes to a different set of rules.

It’s awful if Paz was sexually abused before dying, but as Kojima himself noted, video games have to be able to broach topics like this in order to proceed further as a viable outlet for narratives. In execution, Paz’s potential rape and/or molestation might be a bit grating compared to previous MGS games, but really, the series has always been edgy and pushed narrative boundaries. Ground Zeroes clearly is a step in a new, grittier direction for the series, and while there were plenty of winks at longtime fans, the overall experience upheld that vision all the way to that final scene. I don’t want to think that Paz was attacked in that way, but there a lot of things I don’t want to have happened in stories I’ve experienced and read over the years, but they did.

I think it’s a healthy response for people to debate the ending of Ground Zeroes, but ultimately I think that it was handled well. I’d like to also point out that Hideo Kojima is no slouch as a director. MGS’s story is very dense and layered, to put it mildly, but the wide array of characters, both male and female, that Kojima has depicted over the years is staggering. Kojima’s run the gamut of character personality types and portrayals in his years with the series, and I’ve never once felt like he treats women any differently than men in his games. Ground Zeroes is a compelling game, and it’s ending is only as offensive as someone wants it to be. I think it deals with Paz’s situation as gracefully as it can and look forward to the rest of the adventure in The Phantom Pain.

Graphics Don’t Get Worse With Time

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I was reading a review for NBA Live 14 back when it launched where the writer described what he considered to be a poorly rendered crowd of fans. His descriptor for this poor representation was “[t]he crowd looks PS3-ish”. It was a pretty odd choice of words, considering that PS4 and Xbox One were barley out of their boxes. at that point. Clearly, by comparison there are some notably big differences between last-gen’s systems and today’s current boxes, but when I look at my PS3 and 360 games, I still see some beautiful, intricate graphics. I also feel the same way about GameCube, PSOne, Nintendo 64, SNES, Genesis, NES, and every other system’s graphics that has ever come out. What was good will always be good, so long as a person knows how to appreciate what’s on the screen in front of them.

The easiest way to think about this is remembering that when any system is in its prime, there are good looking games, and bad looking ones. No console has uniformly spectacular graphics across the spectrum of its titles. Twilight Princess on Wii looked a thousand times better than M&Ms Racing, for example. Particular titles represent the pinnacle of what can be achieved graphically on a console. Yet, the vast majority of video game journalists and critics are quick to dismiss what came before because of how shiny and new the graphics look on the latest generation of consoles. To say that game A doesn’t look good anymore because game B came along on the new system is a ridiculous oversimplification.

Video games suffer from this mindset in particular because of the industry’s ties to technology. Tech moves forward, always, with the idea to make the next new device far more advanced and better than the old. This leads people to categorize what’s old as inferior or lacking, which is totally unfair. Other mediums of art and entertainment embrace what came before. No one is slamming cave paintings or Jane Eyre in their respective communities, yet with video games there’s always some upstart ready to come along and say how a particular classic game isn’t all it’s made out to be.

Ocarina of Time is still every bit as nuanced and visually fascinating as it was in 1998. The vivid pinks of the sky as it transitioned to night, the serenity of the Forest Temple, the frightful depths of the Bottom of the Well, and a hundred other locations and experiences are timeless examples of what Nintendo 64 was capable of. The reason being that within the confines of the limitations of that hardware, Ocarina remains a work of brilliance. There were a hundred Superman 64s, but Ocarina was in a class of its own. Saying Ocarina is ugly now demonstrates a complete and utter lack of appreciation for what made the game so beloved to begin with.

Classic games shouldn’t only be playable if they’ve been upscaled to HD or completely remade. These games resonated with players for a reason when they first launched, and there’s no reason someone shouldn’t be just as absorbed playing them today. So go and bask in the waters of Wave Race 64, feel the rush of air as you swoop through the skies in Ratchet & Clank, and feel the chill of the snow in Metal Gear Solid. The good games will always be beautiful, because art never goes bad.

The Games That Make You Think

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I’ll never forget the end of Super Mario RPG, when, with their mission done, Geno ascends back into the sky and leaves his friends down below. After all the hours invested playing, it didn’t occur to me that at the end Geno, who’s only goal was to restore Star Road, would have to go home. I was a kid, and I gravitated towards titles that featured characters I liked more than how “good” they were. Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI, EarthBound, all those SNES titles that so many people were enjoying at the time were lost on me, because I didn’t know any better. As a result, for all intents and purposes, Mario RPG was the first true RPG I ever played. I spent the whole time laughing at the oddball characters, soaking in the graphics, and tapping my toes to the excellent soundtrack. When it finally ended, though, I just wasn’t ready to let go; I believed it wasn’t right that my reward for beating the game was to lose a friend.

Deep narratives aren’t uncommon in video games, but not all of them resonate the same way for different people. Whereas some will site the twist at the end of the first BioShock as their favorite moment in gaming, others might say that triumphing over the Elite Four in Pokemon Diamond left them breathless. It sounds weird, but really, it’s the player’s attachment to any given title that makes the experience special. Take Super Mario Galaxy, for example. When Mario’s little Luma buddy throws himself into that vortex at the end, I’m crushed every time. I might have saved the day, but ultimately all I cared about was that the Luma was by my side, then he wasn’t. That was twice in my life that a Mario game made me think about loss, and each time was potent.

It’s an incredible thing to have a game connect with a player beyond just having fun. There’s a certain amount of escapism to video games, but I know that when I’m playing, for me there’s a lot more it it; I’m soaking in everything that’s on the screen in front of me. The design of the characters, the worlds, the sound of the music, the story, all of it is being absorbed by my brain. I’ve seen and done things that left me in awe in all my time gaming. I count leaving behind poor, brave Makar to guard the Earth Temple in Wind Waker right up there with watching Atticus Finch defend Tom Robinson in To Kill A Mockingbird. Pushing forward relentlessly to find the source of the pillar of light in Journey resonates as strongly to me as Gatsby reaching futilely towards the green light across the water in The Great Gatsby. The themes and tropes video games explore are just as compelling as the written word or projected film.

It’s important to recognize the depth of emotions and feelings that people have experienced in video games, because then it becomes easier to validate the industry outside of its own community. Twitch is great, or posting videos of playthroughs on YouTube, but it’s also integral that gamers move past the pure, visceral aspects of gameplay and take a deeper look at what these games mean, the stuff that lies under the surface. We’ve had enough talk of head shots and hidden rooms; it’s time to start saying what it all means. Think of when players saw Aerith die for the first time in Final Fantasy VII; thousands of people across the world were convinced that they did something wrong. PlayStations were reset, shutdown, or unplugged from sockets as a response, with some folks going so far as to even restart their entire playthrough. That’s an incredible moment in storytelling, let alone the industry, that only people who play games have any inkling of, and as time progresses it’s a memory that fades. Let’s do our best to recall and catalogue these experiences so that the legacy of gaming is more than negative news reports and congressional debates.

Titanfall Shouldn’t Go Annual

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Call of Duty, love or hate it, is king of sales in the FPS market. Every year, fans lineup outside of GameStops and Walmarts across the country to get hold of the latest installment of the series. While the campaigns remain fairly engrossing from title to title, the real draw of CoD is its immersive online multiplayer. In the wake of CoD’s juggernaut momentum, many developers and publishers have done their best to enter the fray with a game to counter Activision’s darling. There have been a handful of games that can claim to compare, most notably EA’s Battlefield series, but overall CoD is in a league of its own. At least, it was, until Titanfall came out.

Another EA property, Titanfall is, for all intents and purposes, CoD with mechs. It’s a crude analogy, and recent converts are quick to point out the myriad of differences that separate the two games, but it’s the simplest way of summing up what makes Titanfall unique. Reaction to the game has been overwhelmingly positive, and there’s already quite a bit of rumbling about a sequel. I have no problem with seeing another Titanfall game make its way to the world, but if the title is truly primed to be a CoD contender, I don’t think it needs to follow the same sales model.

This is the first year that I haven’t gotten into the latest installment of a CoD game. Ghosts felt like a genuine step backwards compared to Black Ops II, so I’ve been sticking with the older game, instead. If Activision were still releasing map packs for the title, I’d be downloading them, but under CoD’s current structuring, each installment only gets a year’s worth of support, then it’s on to the next. I think Titanfall might benefit from adopting a sales plan different from CoD. People are having a lot of fun with this first installment of the series, and it also doesn’t have a single-player component, so I say put the next sequel out two years from now and in the interim support the current game with DLC.

I honestly think that fans would have no problem with CoD not being annual and just paying for new maps. I’m certainly tired of paying a minimum of $60 for the game followed by another $60 for map packs over a year. The value just isn’t there, at that price. Titanfall, though, is already luring people with its epic gameplay, so it would seem smart to ensnare them a little further with the proposition of not having to invest $120 a year just to play. Frankly, it would be refreshing to know that the $60 buy-in for the game will allow a player to stay current without as much expense over a two year period. It’s not like it doesn’t cost money to create a yearly installment of any game, either; this model would allow the devs to stretch their resources further.

It’s unlikely EA can resist the temptation of going toe-to-toe with CoD on a yearly basis, but it would be nice to see something different come from the industry. Titanfall is bringing something new to the FPS genre with its gameplay, so I don’t see why the same can’t be said for how its sold. I think there’s a great deal of discontent amongst CoD fans over having to adapt to a new multiplayer experience every single year at $60 a pop; Titanfall can be the change we’ve all been looking for.

 

E3 Anticipation

It’s only March, but I can’t help but think about E3 2014 and how very close it is. Soon, Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft will be promoting their newest games (and maybe hardware!) for the world to see, but half the fun is guessing what those reveals might be! Here are five things I’m looking forward to seeing at E3 2014!

5) Halo 5

Last year’s demo built hype, certainly, but it seems likely that we’ll finally get a true glimpse at Halo 5 this E3. Or Halo something-or-other, because Microsoft has been coy about committing to the traditional numbering from the Xbox and Xbox 360 days. Taking a cue from the comic book companies and trying to ditch “intimidating” high numbers on its boxes might be Microsoft’s goal (which sucks), but no matter what Halo 5 is ultimately called won’t mean a thing if the game can’t maintain the high quality the series is known for. Given how embraced Halo 4 was, I think it’s a safe bet that Halo 5 will be just fine. That being said… what comes next for Master Chief?! I’m torn whether I want to see something radically different or more of the same, awesome Halo gameplay we all know and love.

4) New Vita IP

I don’t care what anyone says, Tearaway was an amazing game that played to Vita’s strengths. It was as charming as LittleBigPlanet and a breath of fresh air regardless of platform. I’d love to see a sequel make its way to Vita (or even PS4), but I’d also like to see some more, original IPs head to the handheld, preferably straight from Sony itself. PSP brought the world the wonderful Patapon and Loco Roco series (which need Vita sequels, like, NOW), and I’m curious what other sorts of unique, fun handheld games Sony has up its sleeve.

3) Mega Man

It’s just sad that fans have been waiting years now for a true, new Mega Man game from Capcom, but that’s the world we live in, folks. With all the attention that Mighty No.9 has been (justly) receiving, it would be foolish of Capcom not to capitalize on the Blue Bomber. There’s room for both series in the world, and maybe now would be a good time to unveil a Mega Man title to create some friendly competition between Comcept and Capcom. Fans would be the winners, in the end, no matter what! Just to geek out a bit, here, but after the Worlds Collide crossover between the Mega Man and Sonic the Hedgehog comics by the folks at Archie, I’d love to play a video game with the two characters. The comic was fun and introduced some weapons concepts that would be awesome to see in action!

2) New Nintendo Hardware

I’m thinking that Nintendo will either reveal a new variation of the Wii U hardware or a redesigned 3DS. As far as Wii U goes, I don’t foresee a full-blown redesign, but I can picture Nintendo either doing something to make the system differentiate itself more from the original Wii, or offer models with way more memory or a slimmer GamePad. A redesigned 3DS is probably the safer bet here. The base model 3DS remains the weak link of the three versions of the handheld, with low battery life and some clunky design choices (I’m looking at you, Home/Pause/Select buttons!). As it stands now, the 3DS is the middle child and not all that appealing. I’d be pretty happy to see Nintendo put out a new model that’s reminiscent of the XL’s design, with rounded edges, better buttons, slightly bigger screens, and longer battery life. Make it ultra thin, and it would be pretty dang cool.

1) New Zelda

This is a foregone conclusion, as Nintendo has already confirmed we’ll be seeing the first glimpse of the next installment of Zelda, but no one knows what it’s going to be like. Realistic graphics? Toony? A middle ground like Skyward? Will the waggle be back? Where in the timeline is it going to fall? So many questions! Just talking about it gets me excited, and with the incredibly fun and gorgeous games that Wii U has already graced us with, I know that the next Zelda is going to be amazing. I just want to know more about it!

A handful of predictions/guesses, but here’s hoping that some of them come true! Until then, I should probably get to actually finishing a bit of the mountainous backlog of games I have piling up. Till next time!