Like the broken clock that strikes right twice a day, you can guarantee that Bioware are going to dominate news feeds with the release of each of their games. Stories about launch day downloadable content, vague finales and tales of gayers have swamped the games media over the past nine days.
As was the case with Dragon Age 2, a vocal minority of players cowering behind the veil of incognito have taken umbrage with the sexual orientation of one of the characters in Mass Effect 3. That character is Steve Cortez. Steve is the pilot of the shuttle Shepard and co use to scoot around planets, he’s an integral part of the crew but one you can spurn entirely should you choose. Problem is, he also had a husband on earth. Hubbie’s dead, but that doesn’t mean Steve has been purged of his affliction (SARCASM).
Thing is though, you only learn of Steve’s woes if you bother to chat with the man and you only cross swords if you veer off course for a while in order to explicitly initiate such a scene. Steve makes mention of his late husband in your first conversation. In your second entirely optional chat, Shepard can place a hand on Steve’s shoulder – GAY – but at that point, if you’re genuinely repulsed by the idea of a homosexual aboard a ship, you’re able to steer clear like a 17th century philistine. Sadly, the rhetoric pervades across news stories, forums and videos is one that rears every time this topic is breached: ‘We straight male gamers demand all man-on-man romance be removed from OUR games.’
It’s worth pointing out that Mass Effect 3 is not a thirty-hour long, raging, galaxy-wide, inter-species homosexual orgy, that the homosexual romances are avoidable and Bioware are reasonably tactful about it all (save, perhaps, for the laughable lesbian shower scene – no-one’s moaning about that though.)
Ex Bioware-person on day-one downloadable content
Ex-Bioware dev Christina Norman braved the ire of the gaming community at GDC by leaping to the defence of her former employer. Day-one DLC, Norman claimed, was necessary in the current development sphere:
“There’s no point in releasing DLC a year after your game has come out when most people have already sold your game back to GameStop three times. That means getting it out early; that means even day-one DLC.
“[It] is a terrible thing to some players. Players rant – they know nothing about this DLC that’s coming out except its name. But then it’s ‘oh this game must be incomplete, the game must be ruined.’ Game developers are not evil. (Some are evil.) But most are not evil.”
Developers are quick to point out that once development of a project is complete, creating DLC is a tidy means of ensuring people are kept in jobs while simultaneously allowing the developer to earn a little extra money. I don’t think anyone has reason to grouse about people keeping their jobs or downloadable content like GTAIV’s The Ballad of Gay Tony or Fallout 3’s Broken Steel, which represents serious value for money.
The contentious part is ‘day-one’. If the DLC was created post-production then there’s no reason for it to fit snugly into the core narrative as From Ashes does. It should extend the experience, branching off in new directions like Gay Tony or Shivering Isles (more on that in a moment).
And if that’s the case then there’s also no good reason why the developer can’t hold off a week or two before releasing it. At which point, many players will have finished the game and, assuming it’s any good, will be hankering for another dose. Day-one implies it’s integral to the core game, and From Ashes arguably is.
“We just want to release awesome stuff.” Norman continued. “Players please, give us a chance. Judge our games based on what they are. Judge the DLC based on what it is.”
The controversy surrounding From Ashes then is twofold. One, it represents content already on the disc which contradicts Bioware’s earlier claims that: “all of the above content was completed while the main game was in certification and are not available on the disc.”
Two, the DLC includes a character and narrative branch clearly designed to be a part of the core game, then later removed to be sold separately. The squad-mate has dialogue that ripples throughout the whole game, he interacts with other core characters and there’s a wealth of backstory provided by carting him around. To Bioware’s credit, Javik is not some throwaway last-minute addition ala Zaeed. He’s absolutely worth having along for the entire ride.
The claim that the content was developed during certification is an outright lie, proven by PC gamers fiddling around with the game’s files.
And that’s fair cause for ire. Having content removed in order to be resold on day-one is an orchestrated swindle; gamers invested in the Mass Effect universe are absolutely going to pay for From Ashes. Bioware know this. It’s why James Vega isn’t the DLC character. It’s why it’s launch day DLC. The Prothean-centric strand of story is simply too enticing for anyone that cares for Mass Effect to ignore. Comparisons to Zaeed and Kasumi don’t hold up either; the pair were utterly forgettable. Javik holds the answers to some of the most pertinent questions that have been lingering for the past five years.
The string of lies and having content hacked to pieces is what has people up in arms. Judge the DLC on what it is and it’s painstakingly clear that it’s a carefully engineered fleece. DLC needn’t be a devious exercise in gouging extra money by molesting a loyal fanbase. Developers need only look at what Bethesda and Rockstar do further down the line when they release their games. Some of the DLC content for Fallout 3 and Grand Theft Auto IV improves and even exceeds the standards set in two already strong games. I’ll turn a blind eye to horse armour for the sake of this argument.
Kojima on the state of the Japanese game industry
Fez developer Phil Fish’s comments regarding the current state of the Japanese games industry – in which he said in no uncertain terms that Japanese games aren’t up to much – precipitated a level of backlash I doubt he anticipated. Context is everything and I don’t agree with him (Platinum alone are outdoing most western developers, with devs like Intelligence Systems, Nintendo and Grasshopper sticking the middle finger up to Fish too) but, amid the vitriol, Metal Gear developer Hideo Kojima chimed in and his words are worth reading.
“I think the problem really is more about where people are looking and who they’re targeting. A lot of creators are just focused on Japan and the Japanese market and aren’t really aware of what people around the world want.”
There are certainly a lot of people happy with games like Bayonetta and Final Fantasy, but equally, they’re not selling by the wagonload and games like Call of Duty are. Kojima looks to western developers and their riffing on Hollywood conventions as inspiration, although he falls short of explicitly declaring that Japanese developers would do well to do the same:
“[…] most Western studios approach things from more of a Hollywood standpoint where they’re looking at making their games a very global success and looking at how they can sell them in various markets.”
The echoes of one of the most creative and exciting corners of the gaming industry may be fading, but even now it’s hard to see how catering to an audience reared on COD-clones and Hollywood’s bombast could be a positive thing for the Japanese industry. Look at the number of failed western games that ape that mould. It’s certainly no guarantee of success.
The middle ground would appear to be something like Vanquish. Platinum did a sterling job of merging Gears of War with their own eccentric vibes in that game and it sold less than a million copies worldwide (both Vanquish and Bayonetta sold significantly more in the west, incidentally). That’s not to say drawing from Hollywood or western developers can’t work – and the Japanese industry certainly needs to evolve if comments from devs like Kojima and Keiji Inafune are to be believed (Inafune famously pronounced the Japanese game industry ‘finished’ in 2009) – but it’s risky ground to tread; I’d hate to see eccentricity and imagination snuffed out in a desperate bid to ape the work of western developers.
Crytek talks Homefront 2
Crytek man Avni Yerli has explained why the studio chose to adopt the parentless Homefront franchise. The last remnants of Timesplitters developer Free Radical (now known as Crytek UK) is in charge of development, which is a colossal waste of talent, recourses and time that could have been spent finally making Timesplitters 4.
“It has a huge mind share, everybody knows the IP. The first game has indeed a low Metacritic, but due to really great positioning and great marketing it has reached a good mind share. And I think with Crytek quality attached to it and similar marketing attached to it, it can make a big splash at the time it comes out.”
Homefront certainly made a splash when it launched last year, more than earning its lowly Metacritic standing; Kaos’ first person shooter took the Call of Duty mould, reduced the player to even more of a spectator and adorned four hours of stodgy shootouts and dumb story with some of the worst characters ever conceived. And then it asked you to jump into a mass grave. But hey, THQ marketed it pretty well so that’s good enough reason to make a sequel!
Capcom defends $20 on-disc character pack
“I know many were worried past character pricing would push the cost of this update sky high, so I’m happy to say Blanka, Sakura, Guy, Cody, Elena, Dudley, Alisa, Bryan, Christie, Jack, Lars and Lei will not break the bank.” – Capcom community manager Brett Elston.
Yeah, you’re right. $20 is totally reasonable for some characters that came bundled with the game.