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Meet the Team

Of all the ways I expected Valve to finish up the “Meet the…” Team Fortress 2 video series, this was not one:

You should go watch the rest of the videos while you’re at it.

Dear Game Developers, Can We Chat About Breasts and Armor?

Dear Game Developers,

Look, I know that it’s not a new complaint, but perhaps that’s the whole point.  There have been years and years for you to learn that stupid illogical depictions of women in a game is a problem and do something to improve it.  So get on that already.

Maybe you need me to be specific to understand what I’m talking about.  Here is a common problem I encounter: Let’s say I have one set of armor I’ve picked up that most of my party can equip.  When I put it on any of the male characters, it could be spiky, or curvy or have funny tribal symbols, but chances are, it will be recognizable as armor that could protect the body from damage.  But then I go and put it on any female character, and it’s some sort of ridiculous tit-exposing monstrosity that leaves clear damage prone areas in favor of cleavage and jiggle physics.  And that’s really not cool.

First, it truly breaks immersion in a game if you’re going along and suddenly think: hey, that’s total bullshit, that wouldn’t protect her from shit, plus, what’s holding her boobs up?  Is it hope?  I bet it’s hope.  ‘Cause unless this gameworld has plastic surgery, natural breasts that size would sit totally differently if 2/3 of them were uncovered.  And wait, why is she just wearing little panties under metal chaps?  That can’t be very effective.  But for another thing, it is insulting.

Now you can go ahead and trot out the old defense that you’re just catering to your demographic by putting women in exploitative clothing*, but the fact is, I don’t believe you anymore.  Gaming as a medium has been around for more than my entire lifetime, and when you go to gaming events, look at gaming commentators and survey gamers themselves, you find that there are lots of women there.  We don’t have to be fully 50% of your market for you to start thinking about women as worthy people too, and represent us in your products accordingly.  There are any number of kind, good male gamers out there who are either feminists or feminist allies who don’t like this shit either.  I married one of them.

Gamers and geeks are having families of their own and are exposing them to the awesome comics, games and movies that they loved as children.  We have young children, boys and girls, who are growing up loving gaming, and you are doing yourself and them a disservice by assuming that they and we want to keep buying the same sexist crap you used to justify by having a 99% young male demographic.

If you think that kind of thing is sustainable in the long term, I think you’re behind the times.  And don’t believe that children can’t tell when you’re pulling this kind of sexist crap; look at this wonderful and heartbreaking account of a little girl who was horrified by the recent costume monstrosity for Starfire.

So stop it.  Just stop.

If you need someplace to start looking for ideas of putting women in armor, someone has kindly created a Tumblr that contains any number of ideas for you to draw from.

I look forward to seeing less sexist shit in the future,



*It’s unfortunate that I have to explain exactly what makes this sort of thing exploitative, but the sad reality is that I do.  I have nothing against women being sexy, sexual, or erotica/pornography in general.  But there is a key difference that makes one example cool and sexy and the other bad and exploitative, and it all comes down to the source and intent.  When a woman chooses to wear something sexy or watch/be in porn because it’s fun and exciting and expresses something about her, that’s awesome.  When it’s something from the male gaze that’s imposed on her, it becomes sexualization and is something we as a society can do without.  Turns out that women are people too, just like men; who knew?

A Good RPG Will Steal Your Life

I have not actually died, nor have I suffered hospitalization.  I have, however, been playing a JRPG that has sucked hours and hours of my life away in joyous questing.  It’s actually a game that I should not be able to play, actually, thanks to Nintendo of America.

Xenoblade Chronicles is a Japanese ass JRPG that incorporates a decent number of MMO mechanics, and the result is weirdly awesome.  It’s only loosely connected to the Xenosaga games as an ultra-prequel; an early title was Monado: the Beginning of the World.  It has gotten rave reviews pretty much everywhere and is fully translated and localized into English, so all that’s left is the slight shifts involved in changing to a different region-l0cked format.  It’s one of the best RPGs to come out in a long while and is exclusive to the Wii, so it seems like a no-brainer that they’d happily jump at the chance to get sales from North American gamers.  (All the work of translation and voice recording is done, after all.)  But apparently none of that makes financial sense to the regional corporate overlords, because they have announced that it will not be coming to a store near you.

I don’t pirate games, but I pirated this one.  And I don’t feel the slightest bit bad, because they gave me no legitimate way to play the game.  So it’s running through brute-force emulation on the main PC, and it looks pretty good actually.

But it’s also kind of monopolizing my life, gobbling up my free time like a ravenous beast.  Because it’s incredibly fucking addictive; it’s as if the game knows exactly what sorts of bizarre completionistic compulsions exist in my head and is actively exploiting them.

It’s enormous.  Not just the world, which is definitely huge (made manageable by a good fast travel system and the ability to save wherever) but there’s a lot going on in this game:

  1. sizeable party to shuffle and equip
  2. complicated system of individual talents to level up and overlapping skills trees of passive abilities that characters can equip from other characters (depending on how close you are to the other character)
  3. equipment gem slots and gem crafting from monster drops and mining (yes, actual mining)
  4. an active battle system that borrows from MMO elements, where not only are offensive debuffs useful, they’re necessary
  5. some quasi-quick-time button presses during combat to keep things extra busy
  6. an absolutely staggeringly large map with tons of hidden nooks and crannies, tons of hidden unique monsters, quest items, special collectibles, surprise quests, tucked away NPCs/merchants, and “heart-to-heart” locations that tie into a mad affection web
  7. seriously, this map is huge, I can’t even explain how large it is, but the fast travel is absolutely necessary
  8. bizarre diagram representation of interpersonal relationships with your party characters that you improve gradually over time to achieve better results in party collaboration
  9. a system of gift giving I just can’t seem to figure out
  10. an even crazier looking web of NPC happiness that affects your ability to get quests and trade for items
  11. a RPG of where you talk not just to everyone or even everyone twice, you talk them again and again and again
  12. money sink/grind encourager where you rebuilt an entire city to former glory on an ongoing basis during the story, even encouraging NPCs elsewhere to move there
  13. glowing blue collectables in each new zone that you use to fill in a stamp collecting element (yes, really)
  14. enough side quests of all shapes and sizes to kill a small elephant

So there’s a lot to take in.

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A Final Thought on Deus Ex

So we’ve finished playing through Deus Ex: Human Revolution.  And it’s a great game with a very small but.

It’s a game that feels very polished; it has one of those engaging plots where even when you read every email, listen to all dialogue and explore all the corners you can find, you are still left with the feeling that there is a greater depth to the plots around you.  For example, partway through the game, Adam Jensen escapes the FEMA facility below Detroit, but you never quite get the whole story of what they planned to do with the detention facility and its eventual prisoners.  Much of the game is like that, because it’s a game built around conspiracies of powerful shadow figures calling themselves the Illuminati.  (With plenty of nods toward the first Deus Ex game where one of the members broke away to form the Majestic 12.)  It simply wouldn’t feel like a credible conspiracy game if you had all the answers.

The character design is varied and aside from the unsurprising limitation of unnatural looking arm gestures (which I think will last until someone writes better algorithms for natural looking movement) the characters all feel pretty real.  When you dig into the home or office of a character, it feels like they put real effort into making them seem distinctive with little touches: notes, emails, posters, etc.  Sometimes disturbingly so.  Because I’ll be honest, I don’t want to know what precisely the Dutchman wants to do with the broccoli and lube on his post-it shopping list.  Zucchini I would understand, but – you know, this is getting off topic.

I’m also very impressed with the overall design and gameplay.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, it is a game that provides you with different avenues to accomplish the same goals in levels.  Deus Ex also rewards you for being slow and methodical, finding hidden supplies, codes, Praxis software and backdoors.  But that’s only the overall game design, not the three boss fights that were literally handed to another developer to put together.

And those boss fights are fucking terrible.  There is no way to talk your way out of a boss encounter, even if you take speech enhancements early.  And the boss encounters give absolutely no feedback on whether your attempted strategy is doing a goddamned thing.

Read More…

Another Note on Deus Ex

We’re continuing through the game at a fairly leisurely pace, with lots of hacking, exploration and the like, and while I really am impressed with the game on a number of levels (I went from being happy to seeing a range of minorities represented to being really happy because the game introduces a gay character*), I have to wonder what the hell the developers were thinking when it came to crafting the boss battles.  It almost feels as though the rest of the game is crafted by totally different people.

For the majority of the game, the level designers went out of their way to give you different ways to resolve what you needed to do: you can talk your way into a place, smash through walls, jump higher and lift heavy things or hack access points to open up paths.  You can avoid enemies through cloaking, select augmentations to increase your physical resistance to damage, use weapons to kill every last enemy or go totally non-lethal with stun and tranquilizing weapons.  You can chew through enemies in a level by hacking the first turret you see to be friendly and use strength enhancements to carry it with you through entire zones.  It is a game that rewards choice and innovation.

The boss battles on the other hand are extremely hard and can be very punitive if the character build and upgraded equipment you carry don’t fit what the developers had in mind when they were crafting the encounters.  And as for the second boss at Picus; no enemy that fast should have the ability to deal that much damage in bursts, especially when she seems to be able to chain the damn Typhoon attack at times.  And that electrifying the floor idea they had?  Yeah, let’s throw you in a room with a fast, damage-intensive enemy and tell you kill her by making the floor damage both of you.  There’s no way that it will leave you open to being killed inches from victory by one stray bullet.

*At first I thought the gay character (who is also Latino) was a pretty minor one in terms of your interaction with him, but he seems to be more important than I thought based on the most recent developments in the story.  I don’t mind that the only gay character depicted so far is closeted too much since he’s a public figure and advocate against augmentation; showing that people are forced to hide their identities to further a cause feels real and accurate, even if we’re working to change that.

Deus Ex the Prequel

Thrack and I are playing through Deus Ex: Human Revolution* and while we aren’t very far (it came out yesterday, give us a break), I have to say that I’m actually impressed at the level of diversity shown in the staff of Sarif Industries.  It’s nice that since they are based in Detroit, you see staff that seems representative of the population base.  Instead of the usual sea of white (and maybe the occasional Asian) faces, you had sprinklings of Latinos and African Americans throughout the company.  I was very pleased when we reached the plant negotiation stuff to find that the manager of the plant was an African American, middle-aged woman.

I’m so used to seeing high- end tech companies represented in games as a mostly homogeneous  mass that it’s nice to see something that feels both realistic and non-discriminatory. Deus Ex also manages to show a variety in women as well; rather than having an assorted sampling of young, pretty women with identically sized, perky breasts.  Why, one of the women in the Sarif offices could be sixty.

The game has an atmosphere that comes straight out of cyberpunk and it ends up feeling like a very retro-future.  The other day Thrack and I watched Blade Runner on streaming, and I was struck by how dated the future felt.  No one saw cell phones coming, so in these cyberpunk visions you see futuristic phone booths, rather than no phone booths at all.  Deus Ex has its own futuristic phone booths as well as optical media sitting next to computers.  It’s a little funny.

*Note: I often think of the way that we sit down and go through a single player game this way.  He does the actual gameplay for very actiony games (I lack the years of honed instinct and intuitive button coordination for this sort) and I act as something of a spotter or I help problem solve.