Sex in Video Games

This post will be a ramble, just warning you.

As an industry there has been a visible shift in how we look at sex, sexuality, race, gender, and so on in video games. If I am totally honest I have done my best to keep out of this petty gamer game vs social justice warrior mess as ultimately 90% of the people want the same thing regardless of which side they are on. The other 10% take the debate to another level with various threats to both sides given by both sides. These acts are deplorable to the utmost and I very much doubt any reasonable person involved, regardless of side would disagree.

Ultimately I will defend a developers right as a fellow creative to put whatever they want in their game, however creative freedom does not give you freedom from criticism. However I believe if it is a real form of creative expression you will stand by it. I shall also defend a critics right to critique a game in whatever fashion they like, I may not agree with them, but it is their opinion. I also defend a readers right to criticise that critics opinion. All this may seem fairly obvious, but to me it does seem as though people are only interested in this basic system of rights only applies when you are making a point.

I have never really found hyper sexualised games interesting, this may just be because I don’t find sex particularly interesting in general, but for some reason barely clothed females with massive breasts has never appealed to my gaming taste. However I one hundred percent understand that for many it does, my girlfriend loves them, and there are hundreds of games that have been consistently made over decades that appeal to this. Games that use the aesthetics of a character to stimulate the player, use sex as a motivator to progress in a story etc. This is fine, hell Mass Effect is my favourite game series ever and those games are one of the biggest culprits of this.

There is nothing wrong with sex in games, go for it, but it has been done before, and honestly it is boring. The same however, in my experience, can not be said for looking at sex in a different way in video games. Games have the power to bring forward emotions and darkness that is simply unattainable in other media. There are plenty of games that use sex as a motivator, plenty of games that disregard sex full stop. Both are fine, but you know what I’d like to see? Sex and sexualisation used in a different way. People frequently defend sexualisation under the term “creative integrity” however in my mind there is not much creative about doing what has been done before. What would be creative is to turn our expectations of sex in video games upside-down. Provide a new way of seeing things. Using it in different ways other than just eye candy.

I remember when the previous Tomb Raider game was revealed, and there was a massive outcry at the potential that Lara Croft might have been raped during the game. I understand why Square Enix didn’t pursue this, they have to make money, but that is the moment when I really started to notice, how little sex is used in a dark way, how glorified it is.

You have a right to put whatever the fuck you like in your games. But don’t sit there and tell me how creative you’re being because you designed a woman with barely any clothes and massive tits. Films, books, tv all explore this the darker side to sex and our society in general. Why should games not? we’re the most powerful media. But we seem so set on avoiding this, and my only theory is that people believe by games exploring this, by people asking for this, by critics asking for something different, we will lose everything else. That is simply naive, short sighted, and ultimately detrimental to the industry.

Variety doesn’t just make new games, it makes us value others too.

I don’t know, this is my first article in a long time, and was more or less just a ramble about some of my thoughts.

Let me know what you think.

Thanks for reading,

Sean

Review: Thomas Was Alone

Review: Thomas Was Alone

Thomas Was Alone is a relatively simple puzzle platformer that provides us with a tale of an AI called Thomas, who is, alone. Throughout the game you discover a number of new characters with various abilities and through utilising each of their abilities and working as a team you solve a number of creative puzzles in your bid to discover what this world is about.

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Presentation: The game has a very simple look to it but that only goes to accentuate the fantastic craft and personality of the game. It does the opposite of many modern games which hide weak characters and uninteresting plots behind flashy and impressive graphics. However don’t let this description fool you, in it’s own way Thomas Was Alone’s art style is gorgeous and works perfectly in tandem with the other aspects to the game.

Each character is a different colour rectangle and whilst that might not sound particularly appealing for a narrative driven game, I ended up caring more about these characters and their story than any character that looks remotely real in many AAA games.

One of the best features of the game has to go to it’s soundtrack; one of the best in any video game I’ve played. It starts very simple and empty, reflecting Thomas being alone but as you discover new friends, learn about them and work with them the soundtrack grows into a beautiful symphony that helps to convey the story and the emotions of the characters to the player. Even if the game itself may not be for you, I highly recommend the soundtrack.

The rest of the presentation of the game is simple and easy to work your way around. There is very little in terms of UI other than to show which character you have selected and subtitles to the narrator. The whole presentation is very simple and clean and does it’s job without being over the top or trying to take the focus away from the incredible story and creative challenges.

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Gameplay: Don’t be fooled by the simple concept of the game play in Thomas Was Alone. The goal of each level is to get the various rectangles to a point in the level shown by a white outline of the shape of the rectangle. The challenges start of very simple and do a great job of introducing each characters strengths of weaknesses before presenting the player with a more complex test of what they have learnt. The formulae is simple but it works and with the vast variety of puzzles, the gorgeous soundtrack and the charming characters we’re given to play, the formulae never gets boring.

There isn’t too much to say regarding the gameplay other than I think some of the powers were ingenious and towards the end of the game the changing up of how these powers work/how they are used offered a refreshing change of approach at the late stage of the game whilst also signifying the narrative changes that had recently occurred.

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Narrative: I will not hide the fact that a good narrative is what appeals most to me in any game, and Thomas Was Alone’s is easily one of my favourites. It takes such a simple idea of an AI exploring it’s world and does a great job of showing the characters in such human ways that it becomes impossible to not consider the question of whether an AI can be inquisitive, can it be proud, can it fall in love all of these things that we consider “human” and makes, me for one, think about what being alive means. I could of course be thinking too in depth about it but I found it fascinating to contemplate nonetheless. The characters each have their own personalities and each their own story to tell, due to this there is absolutely something for everybody here in terms of finding a character to relate to. It becomes impossible not to think of these charming little rectangles as human, before being reminded every now and again that they are simply AIs.

There is more depth to this games narrative than most games I have played, and I am certain the simple look was done to reflect this. Thomas Was Alone has done a better job of making these rectangles feel real and human than any AAA game with all it’s fancy graphics have in a long, long time.

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Overall: 5/5

Thomas Was Alone is a masterpiece if I have ever played one, and this is coming from someone who tends to hate puzzle platformers and loves action oriented games. There is something for everybody in this game, and I haven’t yet played a game which I would be more willing to say is worth every penny you pay for it. There is always a debate about whether a video game can be art, I’m not certain of the answer, but if games are art than Thomas Was Alone is one of the stand out pieces and should be put on a wall somewhere next to the very best games our industry has to offer.

The Wolf Among Us: Season Review

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The Wolf Among Us is a point-and-click adventure game, where the player, in control of the protagonist Bigby Wolf, can move about the environment and examine and interact with other characters or objects. It is similar to Telltale’s previous game, The Walking Dead, in that the player may make choices in their actions or through conversation trees that will influence future events in the story, including events in future episodes. These include major decisions, such as deciding which of two culprits to chase after while allowing the other to go free. Like The Walking Dead, these choices are recorded by Telltale, and general statistics on the major choices are presented to the player after completing each episode to allow them to compare their take on the story to others. Telltale has worked to make some of these choices affect parallel events within the narrative, such as choosing which of two people to help first, and later learning from the second one that their help could have been used before.”

Gameplay:

The gameplay, whilst still remaining simple and easy to learn, is far more refined than The Walking Dead series by Telltale. If there was one criticism I had at the original season of the walking dead, it would have been it’s limited gameplay. Unfortunately technical issues still hold this series back with frequent freezes and massive drops in frame rate throughout each episode. Whilst there are a few small bugs here and there none of them were overly taking away from the experience and none of them were game breaking in my playing of The Wolf Among Us.

Narrative: The narrative follows the story of Bigby Wolf, detective in charge of a number of fairy tales who now live in the “real” world. As with The Walking Dead, the narrative is the driving element of the game and it does a great job of gripping you from the very beginning introducing you to interesting characters from the early parts of the first episode. The ending is incredibly clever, and there are a number of theories out there. I won’t go into my interpretation here due to not wanting to spoil the game for you. If there is a criticism I could have for the game, it would be that despite every character being relatively intriguing, some definitely felt more one dimensional than others leading to them and the overall story becoming far more predictable which for a mystery game is counter productive.

Presentation:

The Wolf Among Us looks like your traditional Telltale game although utilising a much brighter and vibrant colour pallet than that of The Walking Dead. The sound in the game compliments the overall experience well, without overshadowing the other aspects of the game. Telltale again did well in their selection of voice actors and they all played their parts extremely well, which is vital for a game like this where dialogue is a core component. The comic book art style works well and suits the setting well given the fairy tale background of the characters.

Overall: 5/5

Ultimately The Wolf Among Us, like The Walking Dead, has taken it’s place amongst the best game on the last generation consoles. The twists and turns the game has to offer makes it a thrilling experience from start to finish. Despite the technical issues, the games many more strengths make The Wolf Among us a stellar game and well worth your time and money. Telltale are quickly becoming one of my favourite developers, I look very much forward to seeing what they do with next generation systems.

Sources; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wolf_Among_Us

http://www.telltalegames.com/thewolfamongus/

Oulu Game Lab Review

So from the first week in March through to the first week in July I was part of the Oulu Game Lab course in Oulu, Finland. I was hoping to have these thoughts up sooner than this but due to work commitments and generally laziness on my part it has been delayed until now. The review will look over a few things; the projects, the education, the teams, and also the staff that run OGL.

First we will look at the projects and what they involved. At Oulu Game Lab I took part in two projects. The first project I worked with a small team with three other OGL team members. The project was a fantasy RPG using a voice recognition technology to cast spells and it would also read emotions in the voice to add an elemental effect to the spell. Unfortunately because of the time delay of when we would receive the technology from Global Lab Sendai, in Japan, we did not make it through. This project involved a lot of planning and research. I worked as producer, it helped me develop my knowledge of what needs to be considered when designing a game and also gave me the chance to work with a team from half way around the world. All of this was a fantastic learning process, the second project was also good for learning for me but more to do with the tools and technology I was using. After my first project was cut I got moved onto the Bonnie The Brave team. I worked mainly as a 3D artist for the team, this involved learning a lot about Blender which is a programme I had never used prior to OGL. I feel my skill in Blender has improved dramatically considering the limited time I have had with it, although I am still a long way off being at the level I want to be.

I found the projects really worth while, we were given a basic idea to build off of and I feel these were well balanced in giving us a foundation but also room enough to be creative and put our own spin on the games. The time that was available for each phase of my time there felt well balanced. A few weeks to develop an idea then a few months to build a demo. It pushed us to work fast and focus on what made our game ideas special.

The ‘lectures’ for lack of a better word, were brilliant for someone like me who loves to discuss video games and the industry for hours. There was a lot of support for any area, be it art, programming, marketing or design and it allowed me to explore where I would be best suited to when/if I pursue working to make games. I feel as though I learnt a lot, looking back at what little I knew prior to this adventure tells me how far I have come with my knowledge of the process for making a game. I feel after this excursion more confident in pushing to get into the industry. When reviewing our time here Jussi paid me a fantastic compliment regarding my knowledge of the industry which has also given me confidence to keep the door open in regards to pursuing and option in video game journalism.

Working in, and moving between, teams really helped me to understand the benefits of getting the team work process right. In my second team at times it felt like 7 individuals working together but after a few weeks it got closer and closer to feeling like a proper team and it showed in our work output. Seeing what the team is producing now I am back home is amazing and I think they have really been helped by that process and the game will be better for it.

Everyone individually at OGL was amazing, they were incredibly friendly and it was amazing to go into work every day and be able to talk about video games to everyone, it was genuinely the most comfortable and content I had felt in a long time, and I thank everyone of the participants at the OGL programme for that. It showed me how important it is for your overall mentality and happiness to be doing something you love, and has more or less guaranteed that I will do everything in my power to be a part of this industry after my final year at university.

The tutors at OGL were nothing short of brilliant. Maybe it’s just because after three years of doing something I wasn’t that passionate for I never clicked that well with my other tutors, or maybe it has something to do with Finnish culture in general where nearly everybody was incredibly friendly, but the tutors really felt like friends and it was great to have them around the teams a lot of the time, they were really involved and that helped all of us I feel.

I am struggling to think of a negative I have about the experience, ultimately I feel the only one I have is that there is not something like this in the UK. Without a doubt the best experience of my life, and I would recommend it to anyone remotely interested in video games. I will be keeping up with all of the work they do over the next few months so for one last time in this OGL series; thank you to Jussi, KP, and everybody at OGL whether you were one of the staff or participants. If you were a game I was reviewing… you’d get a 5 star rating!

For anybody interested, here are the links to the game pages on facebook, and the OGL website!

http://www.oulugamelab.net

https://www.facebook.com/OuluGameLab

https://www.facebook.com/bonniethebrave

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Rocket-Raiders/1396327893979761?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/brokenmemoriesgame

 

Oulu Game Lab Week 12

Okay I shall be the first to point it out! There’s no week 11! “What?!?” or “Dear god no! no!” I imagine you are screaming at your computer, whilst others of you faint from shock unable to find words to describe the horror of what you have just read.

So let me explain to you why there is no week 11… it is a long tale and on that you may struggle to follow. I had Uni work to do so had nothing to talk about beyond “errrr I was writing a report durrrrr”. Yeah now we’ve got the sarcasm out of my system let’s give you a quick update about what was going on last week.

Last week I began working on textures for our game, learning how to unwrap the meshes and mark seams and trying to get a hang of where all the seams needed to be to get a decent template to create the texture on. I managed to get a tree canopy complete, using a pre existing leaf design and making a template over the top to get the right shape. Then using photoshop I added in the colour and texture to the leaf aiming to keep it in the same style as the rest of our game. I then duplicated the leaf twice to get a three pointed leaf, for lack of a better term. I then created three varieties of this, the greenest and brightest to go on the top layer, slightly darker but more leaves for the middle layer and then a much darker leaf that would cover the entire space to get the idea of depth to the tree canopy.

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There are a few imperfections that still need to be corrected, but now I am waiting on the bark textures to be made for the tree so I can get the assets to our level designer to implement them into the game.

Half way through the week we got some news about possibly being present at a gaming even very soon, so we had to shuffle the team around to get the priorities finished. So that has now left me with the task of creating an enemy 3D model for the demo so we don’t have floaty cubes to fight.

As of yet I have never made a 3D model of a character or animal, nor have a rigged/animated a model yet. However I feel up to the challenge despite admittedly being a tad daunted at the task ahead of me. I have about 2 weeks to get it done which given how much I learnt about Blender in my first two weeks of using it, I am sure that I can do this.

My other tasks for the week is to create the UV templates for Dom to make textures on then I will add the textures to all our environment objects. The pressure is most certainly on, but hopefully it will push us to do our best work yet. It feels far more real now then before, with the prospect of this all being in the open as opposed to the safety of our studio with a few select people seeing our work. The thing with creativity is that you will never be 100% happy with your work, but you have to get your work in front of people to improve. Hopefully it goes well at the gaming event, but if not then we will learn from the experience and use it to make a better game.

So that’s my quick little update for you guys this week. Keep tuned as I want to post something else this week to make up for the lack of posting last week!

Thanks for reading 🙂

 

 

Bonnie The Brave: Space Courier

Okay time for a mid-week update! So as you know I have been working on a video game in my time at Oulu Game Lab and on Tuesday 13th May we finally publicly announced the game, which also enables me to show you more of what I have been working on over the coming weeks.

So let me tell you a little about what the game is about. Bonnie The Brave: Space Courier is a colourful 3D action platformer in the vein of Crash Bandicoot combined with the exploration of Metroidvania games. It’s being developed by a team of 7 (including me) people with backgrounds in Media, Engineering, Art and Culture who came together as game development students to create something they love.

Bonnie Brave is a space courier transporting important cargo across the galaxy. During her journey her ship is attacked by pirates eager to get their hands on the Mcguffin, a powerful weapon  Bonnie is transporting. Bonnie’s ship is shot down and crashes on a mysterious and abandoned planet, where she will need to fix her ship, keep the Mcguffin away from the pirates, and learn the truth behind the abandoned planet.

We are expecting to release the game in early 2015, but in the mean time if you’re interested to keep up with the project and maybe give us some feedback, then check out the facebook page; https://www.facebook.com/bonniethebrave

Also check out our indiedb page where we are in the top 100 games in terms of popularity as of the time of posting!

Bonnie The Brave: Space Courier

Oulu Game Lab: Week 10

Ten weeks into this exchange trip sounds as if it should be some kind of milestone, however this will likely turn out to be the shortest of my regular updates so far. I won’t really know until I get going, anybody who knows me in person will know my way of working, jump in at the deep end and never have time for preparation. The updating of my blog follows a similar process.

Week ten has been one of the slowest weeks, having had to work from home for the later half of the week as someone had to be home to collect my laptop, although it never arrived. Worry not though, I went to go collect it from the distribution place in Oulu and working on it all weekend, hence the delay in this weeks post. Despite this lack of action, I have finally finished the 3D models for the foliage on the game, and whilst I am desperate to show you what I have been working on, I cannot as of writing. We were due to have a team meeting regarding what we would release of the game and when, which is when I was going to ask whether I could show you guys what I have been working on, however I don’t feel like that meeting is going to be happening today.

So I think this week I’ll talk to you guys a little about what I have taken from this stage of work. For one I have learnt a lot about Blender. As you guys have seen, I have been doing a lot of tutorials and I am regularly doing stuff on it for fun now. But more importantly I’m learning first hand the importance of the ‘fail faster’ idea. When I first began my 3D models I was fixated on getting them looking right, but as the days have turned into weeks and we have found ourself a third of the way through the making of the demo, I decided to just get it done. What I have produces is by no means the most attractive 3D models I have made, but they will do. The game doesn’t emphasise the visuals and given the extent of the work we still need to produce I will take what I have made.

I also learnt a new technique that sped up my production of some of the foliage, using a 2D plane with a texture and alpha to get good looking leaves. I have replicated this in practice but not yet in the final models. So the next stage for me is to make the textures for these models and start moving them into our demo level on Unity.

Unity is still a gap in my knowledge at this point. I have been so focussed in learning Blender that Unity has fallen behind, so ideally with time I would like to start working on some Unity tutorials to start filling out my knowledge of the game making process.

We also had an update on what Dominic and I need to produce for Coventry University whilst we are out here, a report on our experience in Finland. This is in place of a report based on the second and third term at University which we missed most of, so are unable to give a full report on the finished process. This is likely what I will be spending most of this week on as the 19th is the deadline to hand this in.

So what else has been going on this week? Although not OGL related I have been learning more about modding games, in particular Oblivion, since my laptop has arrived. It seems like something that I may try my hand at over the summer when I have more free time as modding has been the route for a few people to get into the industry, and would help get some of my work out in front of people.

Next week I will hopefully have a more visual post for you, as I know reading through all of this is way less interesting than looking at some cool images. I want to work on a lot of 2D stuff as well as finishing off the foliage models with some nice textures to give you lots of content for next week.

So that is about it. Thanks for reading and please offer any feedback you might have whether it be regarding to my writing or my work, or even if you have any questions or topics you might like me to talk about.