DIS­PATCHES JULY

EDGE - - DISPATCHES DIALOGUE -

Wake-up jab

Much has been said about the lack of wellex­e­cuted fe­male characters in videogames. It’s recog­nised that while there is progress – the Tomb Raider re­boot, Mir­ror’s Edge, Hori­zon: Zero Dawn, etc – we still have a long way to go. What’s not so well recog­nised is that very of­ten a developer’s ap­proach to fe­male characters is in­ter­nally in­con­sis­tent. It’s not just that many games lack wellex­e­cuted fe­male characters, but that even well-ex­e­cuted fe­male characters can get lost in a stream of more or less dis­crim­i­na­tory de­sign de­ci­sions.

If we di­vide a game into four parts – nar­ra­tive, game­play, au­dio and vis­ual – the in­con­sis­tency can be within or across these parts, and can be more or less sub­tle. For ex­am­ple, the Mass Ef­fect ef­fect: a char­ac­ter-cre­ation menu tells you that the choice of fe­male or male makes no dif­fer­ence to game­play, but for some rea­son most fe­male characters wear heels, tight-fit­ting leather and are shown pre­dom­i­nantly from be­hind in cutscenes, even when they are mash­ing lo­cal flora and fauna into bloody bits. Or the Un­charted formula: there is a bal­ance be­tween the number of male and fe­male characters, but the lat­ter are usu­ally in some way driven by, or re­liant on, the former.

One would think that if a de­ci­sion is made to tackle the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of fe­male characters se­ri­ously, that de­ci­sion would be fol­lowed through at ev­ery stage of de­vel­op­ment. So why isn’t it? I sup­pose the char­i­ta­ble ex­pla­na­tion is just that, be­cause game de­vel­op­ment is such a large un­der­tak­ing, it’s dif­fi­cult to mon­i­tor con­sis­tency. Per­haps over time, un­der stress and across dif­fer­ent teams, im­plicit bias ends up over­rid­ing good in­ten­tions. The cyn­i­cal ex­pla­na­tion is a lot more wor­ry­ing: sex sells, so even if some pro­gres­sive de­ci­sions are taken, de­vel­op­ers must en­sure that their fe­male characters re­main fun­da­men­tally, con­ven­tion­ally at­trac­tive.

It will be in­ter­est­ing to see if and how this gets tack­led. Will there be a ‘con­sis­tency po­lice’ on de­vel­op­ment teams, or a push from the mod­ding com­mu­nity or from the lead­ing videogame au­teurs? Prob­a­bly not. More likely, as with many other things, it will be the indie de­vel­op­ers who show that one can turn a profit without dis­crim­i­nat­ing. Leo Tarasov Beau­ti­fully put, though we’re not touch­ing this be­cause we would no doubt up­set The Guardian again. A PS Plus sub is on its way.

Just de­fend

Hav­ing started read­ing the lat­est is­sue of Edge ( E305), I can’t help but feel that even the best gam­ing mag­a­zine in the world can some­times fall vic­tim to a nasty bias. ‘Ubisoft­bash­ing’ is seem­ingly in fash­ion and I find your re­views of two of their re­cent re­leases, well, un­fair. But it’s mostly in con­trast to the treat­ment other pub­lish­ers re­ceive that I be­lieve some of you guys may be in ur­gent need of an ex­am­i­na­tion of con­science. Breath Of The

Wild is a great game: it de­serves all the praise and ac­co­lades it re­ceived, and not just from

Edge. But is Nin­tendo’s first truly open world a time­less mas­ter­piece to Ubisoft’s unimag­i­na­tive, it­er­a­tive daub­ing? Hardly.

I guess it all comes down to what one ex­pects from an open-world game. There is an in­cred­i­ble sense of won­der when ex­plor­ing Hyrule’s po­et­i­cally mys­te­ri­ous land­scape, some­thing con­spic­u­ously (and com­pletely) ab­sent from Wild­lands, but for all its short­com­ings, it still does make me want to visit Bo­livia, in the same goofy way that the Top Gear spe­cial did a few years back. I can only as­sume that the game’s vi­su­als do the coun­try’s nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment bet­ter justice than its plot and cast do its

“Over time, un­der stress and across teams, im­plicit bias ends up over­rid­ing good in­ten­tions”

in­hab­i­tants, but even if the real-world vis­tas are only half as glo­ri­ous as their ren­der­ings, I won’t be dis­ap­pointed.

So thumbs-up, Ubisoft: even though I wish you’d hire new writ­ers and drop the aw­ful ‘Amer­ica First’ at­ti­tude (aren’t you a French com­pany?), on aes­thetic merit alone, your lat­est ti­tle cer­tainly de­serves much bet­ter than a 4. Fabrice Saf­fre We like Ubisoft a lot. But its open-world formula is wear­ing thin, and Wild­lands’ pol­i­tics were spec­tac­u­larly ill-judged. Per­haps if Nin­tendo put out an open-world

Zelda ev­ery six months and had Link spout the UKIP man­i­festo, we’d feel dif­fer­ently.

Ad­vanc­ing guard

I’m still stuck in the past, but I’m creep­ing closer to the pre­sent. In my let­ter printed in

E290 I men­tioned how I haven’t caught up with new re­leases and hard­ware and have a stack of un­fin­ished games gath­er­ing dust. That is still the case. I have, how­ever, made the leap to the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion by pick­ing up a PS4. This is great but I still don’t feel like I’m up to date. This has been the strong­est start to a year in a long time and I haven’t played a sin­gle one of these fan­tas­tic new games. My Twit­ter feed is full to the brim with gush­ing praise mak­ing me feel like I’m miss­ing out.

It seems that most of the games I’ve picked up for my skinny new PlayS­ta­tion are last-gen re­mas­ters such as The Last Of Us,

Un­charted and the Mod­ern War­fare re­hash. This is mostly to do with the fact that my last con­sole was a 360 and I’m catch­ing up on what I missed out on last time around. I haven’t had the time or the funds to get around to brand spank­ing new games like

The Last Guardian or Hori­zon and now I re­ally feel like I’m miss­ing out with the re­lease of Switch and BOTW. And what with par­ent­hood (an in­creas­ingly com­mon theme among Edge read­ers) only months away I am not likely to catch up any­time soon.

I seem to spend more time read­ing about new games than ac­tu­ally play­ing them, which is OK be­cause I en­joy read­ing as much as gam­ing. I’ve de­cided that I’m happy in my slightly out-of-date gam­ing bub­ble. I’ll do things at my own pace. Sod what ev­ery­one is play­ing right now. So, I’ll ex­pe­ri­ence the fu­ture of in­ter­ac­tive en­ter­tain­ment through the pages of Edge while I play through the past on my jour­ney to­wards the pre­sent. PS, I still haven’t fin­ished Okami or FFXII. Alex Evans Peo­ple who try to keep up with new game re­leases knew all about Fear Of Miss­ing Out long be­fore there was an acro­nym for it. That said, this year re­ally has been amaz­ing.

Ran­dom se­lect

As I fi­nally watched my char­ac­ter send the dealer to his doom in Hand Of Fate, I thought once again of Rogue­likes and per­madeath. There is no ques­tion that Rogue­likes have been an enor­mous boon for a great many in­de­pen­dent studios. They cre­ate their own com­pul­sive re­play loops and al­low a re­source-strapped team to por­tion out their of­fer­ings in smaller amounts within any given play, ex­tend­ing a game’s play time on a smaller amount of con­tent.

I have in­vested a sig­nif­i­cant amount of time on these games, from the star-far­ing of

FTL and Bat­tleS­ta­tion: Har­bin­ger, the mor­bid sur­vival of This War Of Mine and Don’t

Starve, the top-down ac­tion-shooter ten­den­cies of Nu­clear Throne and The

Bind­ing Of Isaac. And hav­ing done so, what I feel a need to say to indies who are con­tem­plat­ing adding their own of­fer­ings to the per­madeath-Rogue­like pile is this: don’t.

Or at the very least, se­ri­ously con­sider if per­madeath is sac­ri­fic­ing what might be a bet­ter game for the player in the name of serv­ing the needs of the developer.

At this point, what is dis­turbingly clear to me is that the Rogue­like/per­madeath trend cov­ers up a myr­iad of de­sign sins, sins that some­times be­come clear to the player over mul­ti­ple plays, other times only upon cheat­ing and dis­cov­er­ing that what was pre­sented as a contest of skill and prepa­ra­tion ver­sus the odds was never re­ally any­thing but a roll of the dice.

Even within the pages of Edge, games have re­ceived cov­er­age that are ca­pa­ble of pro­ce­du­rally gen­er­at­ing maps that are im­pos­si­ble for the player to com­plete. Not merely dif­fi­cult. Im­pos­si­ble. I al­low a lit­tle slack for games that only take a few min­utes for a suc­cess­ful run, and a lit­tle more in ac­knowl­edg­ment of the fact that a team of four work­ing out of some­one’s base­ment may not have ac­cess to the test­ing re­sources of EA or Ac­tivi­sion avail­able to them.

But as I have en­tered my 40s, my tolerance for games that are will­ing to waste hours of my life on a bad ran­dom number has grown slim in­deed. The pitch reads all too sim­i­larly to that of a preda­tory croupier, or even a car­ni­val mid­way barker: “Ooh, too bad. Try again? It’s sure to go your way this time!” It is not too much to ask of de­sign­ers that their games be fair, that any given pro­ce­dural gen­er­a­tion have a player-per­ceiv­able path that could lead to suc­cess, that the tools nec­es­sary for that suc­cess be made avail­able to the player, and that a winnable set of as­sets not be locked away be­hind the gate of hav­ing failed 25 times. It’s en­tirely pos­si­ble to make a game that ticks all of those boxes and is still chal­leng­ing, en­gag­ing, and worth the player’s time and money.

And more to the point, if a team isn’t will­ing to give play­ers such an ex­pe­ri­ence, we need to hold them ac­count­able. We need to stop ac­cept­ing ‘shell game’ com­pul­sion loops as a lazy sub­sti­tute for thought­ful and wellimple­mented game sys­tems.

If your cod­ing team can’t give that to us, maybe you shouldn’t be mak­ing games. Or at the very least, think twice about the flip­pin’ per­madeath, will ya? Ben­jamin Kuh­ner have fixed the al­go­rithm yet a while ago, let’s see if the IT bods We tried this joke.

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