Issue #158
June 30, 2014
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Welcome to another issue of Currents, where video game industry headlines are broken down and editorialized. E3 is finally over, which means we can finally cool it on the rumour mill of and start waiting around for all of the 2015 releases. And boy howdy, are there ever a lot of 2015 releases. It's almost as though we're currently trapped in the desert, with only a few game releases here and there on the foreseeable horizon to get us through to the end of the year. Each one, I'm sure, will be enjoyed like an oasis, but it doesn't change the fact that this "next generation" that we're entering into has not been great so far game-wise.

Moving on to post-E3 coverage, one of the more popular video game videos floating around the internet right now is an analysis of controversial indie game designer Phil Fish. It's interesting in that the video deconstructs his role within the public eye and places a divider between Phil Fish the person and Phil Fish the concept. I suggest you watch:

If I could ask you readers some questions this week, they would be:

  • Are you planning on using PlayStation Now?

  • Should Assassin's Creed Unity have playable female characters? Is it a big deal that they aren't there?

  • Is Capcom, and all of its problems, worth buying?

  • Should Nintendo games be their own genre?

I've been carefully watching Sony's cloud developments since the initial acquisition of Gaikai. After all, the service could've become a force to be reckoned with on its own, and Sony's purchase seemed, at least to me, indicative of future intentions to stream new and old games on multiple Sony platforms. This was first confirmed during the #PlayStation2013 event during the announcement of the PlayStation 4. I was excited at the time, and this technology could have been used to fill in part of the gap left by a complete absence of backwards compatibility. Sadly, it appears that this cloud may be a little stormy.

The first of many issues ever present with streamed media is the speed and stability of your personal internet. Dependent on how reliable your service provider is and how strong your connection can be at its peak business, you may or may not enjoy using a streaming service. All I have to do is say the word "buffering" and a little part of you will get angry. Imagine being in the middle of a pivotal boss fight only for your activities to be paused while the internet catches up with gameplay. Not a fun hypothetical situation, but certainly a possible one. While I've been reassured that gameplay remains fairly consistent over PlayStation Now, in spite of internet drops, what does not remain consistent is the price of renting these titles.

Renting is the correct word too, as you can enjoy these titles in finite increments of 4 hours, 7 days, 30 days, or 90 days. You have a limited amount of playtime to do everything it is you would like to do, and will have to purchase more rental time if need be — similar to if you were renting from a Blockbuster.

I've never been shy about how much I adore the concept of renting games. Since the closure of my local Microplay and Blockbuster stores I've lamented how unfortunate it is that I can't simply rent a game for a few nights before deciding whether or not to purchase it full-retail. Or simply just giving a random game I know nothing about a chance because it only costs a small amount and there isn't any real long-term risk to renting a title that may be terrible. There's fluidity in the relationship of a renter and their game which simply isn't present elsewhere, and I was sincerely excited to rent a video game again. At least I was, until I saw the price tags.

Sony has added prices to the beta for their PlayStation Now streaming service, and they aren't going over well with the beta participants — particularly because they actually have to pay real money to play games in order to test out the service. The prices, as they are now, vary based on whether the games available were Indies or AAA releases, but on average 4 hours will cost you $4.99 (US), 7 days is $7.99, 30 days is $14.99, and 90 days is $29.99. Indies are roughly half the cost for the same increments, but the prices are still kind of mind-blowing — mostly because of the age of the games they're attached to.

A majority of the games available, and there aren't many to be frank, are older titles. And when I say "older," I don't mean that you can play some of your favourite PlayStation and PlayStation 2 games of yore — I mean that most of these came out several years ago for the PlayStation 3 and can currently be purchased used at your local GameStop for under $20 (US). Final Fantasy XIII-2, for instance, is currently demanding $29.99 for 90 days while also being $17 brand new to purchase full-retail on Amazon. Indies like Guacamelee! are somehow priced even stranger at $14.99 for 90 days on PlayStation Now, or $14.99 full-retail on PSN. Yes, you can actually pay the same amount, on the same network to keep it for three months or forever.

The FAQs for the program have promised multiple pricing tiers and rental duration, with shorter rental period going as low as $2.99, but I'm not exactly a happy camper. What I wanted was to go back to the days of paying $4 for a two- or three-day rental, not $5 for four hours. I'll acknowledge that Sony has promised a subscription program when the service launches, but the pricing structure that is currently in place will not win PlayStation Now many fans.

In looking back over the service as it has been presented in the beta, I still have growing concerns over the reliability of gameplay during internet fluctuations, the lack of PlayStation and PlayStation 2 support, as well as a limited selection of older PlayStation 3 video games, and the overall pricing methodology. If PlayStation Now launches like this in the fall, I'm afraid it will be a laughing stock and the potential this service could have will be lost. Sony needs to adjust these crazy prices and bring a better library of older and newer games.

Source: Sony

Ubisoft recently stepped in it big time while promoting Assassin's Creed Unity. Unity is an upcoming "historical" action-adventure title set to release this fall for PC, Xbox One, and PS4. It is set within Paris during the French Revolution, and the single-player story follows the fictional Arno Dorian and his fellow assassins in their efforts to expose the motivators of the Revolution. His fellow assassins are all men, which would be fine had Ubisoft not given an inexcusably stupid reason as to why.

After the co-op mode was revealed at this year's E3, ASU's creative director Alex Amancio and technical director James Therien made a point of stating that female assassins were considered, but were cut due to "the reality of production." Amancio added by stating, "It's double the animations, double the choices, all that stuff and double the visual assets. Especially because we have customizable assassins. It was really a lot of extra production work." It was then reported that this change would require an additional 8,000 animations.

As you might have guessed, this caused quite a bit of dissatisfaction with a number of video game outlets, with some calling attention to this as an example of sexism and under-representation in the game industry. Others called the director's claims fallacious in nature and suggested that one of the nine development teams working on this game could have spent some resources on equal representation, especially considering that previous Assassin's Creed games have had playable women as part of the multiplayer component and Brotherhood included support from a number of on-call assassins, many of whom were female. Former Assassin's Creed animator, Jonathan Cooper, responded by saying, "In my educated opinion, I would estimate this to be a day or two's work. Not a replacement of 8,000 animations." He then revealed that the female protagonist of Liberation shares most of her animations with the male protagonist of Assassin's Creed III.

All of this drew Ubisoft and the commentary on female characters in AAA titles under the microscope. I thought the controversy would dissipate, but Ubisoft stepped in it again by issuing a statement to the media indicating that it wasn't, in fact, a reality of development that stopped female playable characters from being in the game. It was now the effect on the story. "Assassin's Creed Unity is focused on the story of the lead character, Arno. Whether playing by yourself or with the co-op Shared Experiences, you the gamer will always be playing as Arno, complete with his broad range of gear and skill sets that will make you feel unique." I have a problem with this, and it is completely unrelated to sexism.

It's not my place to be the arbiter of what is acceptable or not, so I won't sermon on the topic of female representation in video games, but I think I will discuss the role of female representation in the French Revolution. You see, to indicate that a playable woman character wouldn't fit into Unity's story — which is set during the French Revolution — is historically questionable. If anything, it could be argued that a female assassin as the main character during this plight would be more representative of the time than that of the male Arno.

There are a number of women that caused a huge disruption to the mobilizing forcers of the revolution, the most prominent of which being Marie-Anne Charlotte de Corday d'Armon. Known to history as Charlotte Corday, this fine lady was likely the most prominent assassin of the time. Nicknamed the Angel of Assassination, this 24-year-old was responsible for the murder of Jean-Paul Marat — an important member of the Jacobin faction which had a leading role during the Reign of Terror. As a journalist and politician, he exerted power and influence and was almost solely responsible for the radical course the Revolution had taken. He played a substantial role in the political purge of the Girondins and pushed the public towards an all-out civil war. Charlotte Corday's story is intriguing, because she empathized with the Girodins, was subject to the September Massacres, and attempted to halt numerous deaths by assassinating one well protected man — which she did, with a six-inch blade while Marat was bathing. At her trial, she testified that she had carried out the assassination alone, saying "I killed one man to save 100,000." She was a controversial figure for the time, but has since served as the inspiration for many plays, novels, and films.

So, at this point I would have to ask why a video game story about halting the motivating forces behind the French Revolution only stars men when historically the only known assassin was a woman. To me, that really doesn't make much sense. I'm not saying that Ubisoft has to be bound to the confines of history, but the claim that a female assassin wouldn't fit in as much as a male during this setting is lie, and a terrible excuse in the face of period evidence.

Acknowledging the fact that the lack of female representation isn't due to technical limitations or low resources, and that a female assassin would likely fit the narrative better than a male, I will let you draw your own conclusions as to why Ubisoft designed Assassin's Creed Unity to be a 1700s infused sausage fest. Suffice to say, I'm both disappointed in how Ubisoft has handled this situation and their seemingly poor knowledge of French history.

Source: Ubisoft

In the wake of a surprisingly quiet E3 showing, it appears that Capcom's shareholders are not pleased with their investment. At a shareholder meeting held June 16, Capcom shareholders did not approve a proposal that would renew the company's existing takeover defense. The countermeasure, which was originally adopted in 2008, kept Capcom from being bought out through a hostile takeover. In effect, Capcom is now open to a buyout from external entities — should a majority of its stock be purchased.

According to Capcom's official statement, they "will continue to focus on further preserving and enhancing corporate value and common interests of its shareholders" despite the non-approval and, if Capcom shares are acquired by a large-scale purchaser, they are ready "to make necessary measures within the admissible limits of applicable laws and regulations." Essentially, anyone can come in and buy the company at any time... providing the buyer also wants their debt.

Who would to purchase Capcom though? The prospect might seem intriguing on the outside, based purely on the number and quality of IPs still in the company's stables, but the strings attached to the struggling company are nothing to sneeze at. Just this year the company announced major anticipated losses thanks in large part to its short sighted mobile initiatives. Even with the launch of major titles making sales predictions higher than the year prior, income expectations were cut in half. Worse, this year's "major releases" are more or less revisions of previously released titles. To be blunt, 2014 is not looking like a good year for Capcom and I can't see things changing dramatically in 2015.

Those treasured IPs, which have been the only thing keeping the company's reputation afloat, haven't had the best treatment in recent years. A number of AAA franchises were haphazardly handed off to Western studios, with poor critical and commercial reception to follow. Meanwhile, cherished IPs such as Clock Tower, Darkstalkers, Dino Crisis, Final Fight, Ghosts 'n Goblins, Mega Man, Okami, Onimusha, Power Stone, and Viewtiful Joe have been left to collect dust. Traditional money makers such as Street Fighter and Resident Evil have garnered increasing fan and press criticism, and recent missteps taken by the company with regards to these two franchises have certainly altered brand perception.

Capcom isn't without merit though. I'm sure a degree of brand loyalty still persists, and there is no doubt that the company's major franchises still have potential. However, if you were to comb through the annual reports since around 2003, you would find a lot of evidence to suggest that Capcom has been bleeding out for quite a while. Financially disastrous decisions and more than a few IP mishandlings have fostered a dark cloud over the company's management team. To be frank, I'm surprized it took this long for the dismantling of the company's takeover defense.

Source: Capcom

Shigeru Miyamoto has recently stated that he thinks Nintendo needs its own genre of games, and I think there's something to that. In an interview with the LA Times, the father of Mario (and numerous other Nintendo IPs) stated that the company's development philosophy has a greater focus on being as fun and entertaining as possible than being perceived as being cool by the general consumer. To that effect, Miyamoto indicated that he believed Nintendo's approach, as far as video game genres go, is its own entity.

"Nintendo isn't one simple element of an overall gaming industry," said Miyamoto. "I really think there needs to be a Nintendo genre, that's almost its own entity." While this may seem like a bold statement, Miyamoto made a distinction in their approach to development relative to other modern game developers. "It's not that I don't like serious stories or that I couldn't make one, but currently in the video game industry you see a lot of game designers who are working really hard to make their games seem really cool. For a lot of us at Nintendo, it's difficult to decide what cool is. In fact, it's a lot easier for us to laugh at ourselves. It's almost as if we're performers. Our way of performing is by creating these fun, odd and goofy things."

Ignoring the fact that some gamers are inevitably going to take this as an overzealous and cocky statement from the Nintendo camp, I think I can see where he's coming from. Anyone who has grown up with Nintendo games or plays them today could attest that their flavour is a unique one.

Most first-party Nintendo titles are cutesy, feature extremely well refined mechanics, light-hearted story lines with not-too-serious characters, and a devotion to the concept that "fun is good." That's a sticking point to me. Every Nintendo developed game I've ever indulged in seems to take fun very seriously. It's not about framerate, graphical fidelity, explosions, realism, or anything else that is considered trendy today by most gamers. All that seems to matter is being fun, goofy, and entertaining.

Sure, you could argue that we already have too many video game genres as it is, but how many of those genres really encapsulate the essence of their Nintendo games? Is Super Mario just another platformer? Is Metroid Prime just another FPS? Is Star Fox just another flight sim? Is The Legend of Zelda just another adventure RPG? No. I don't think they are. Mostly because when I hear gamers talk about them to non-gamers they usually start by stating that they are Nintendo games — almost as though an implicit difference from the pack needs to be understood.

Do I think we should start referring to Nintendo games as being a part of the "Nintendo" genre? No, I really don't think so. If only due to the fact that people would then create other new genres based on other developers. However, I think I see what Miyamoto was trying to say: the design philosophy at Nintendo seems to be of a different breed than most companies and their games reflect that. In fact, most non-Nintendo games can't emulate the feeling of a Nintendo game even when that's clearly the intent. I think that's something that should be respected.

Source: LA Times

That's it for this issue of Currents. Shout out to Sarah McGarr for the new 'Currents' icon. You'll see another issue again in a couple weeks, but stay tuned to RPGamer for all the latest RPG news, reviews, previews, and interviews.

Your dork from the Great North,

Trent Seely

Stalk me on Twitter: @InstaTrent

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