What happened to Bulletstorm? It’s a fair question. Here’s a game that – while admittedly not for everyone – was a highly innovative and gorgeous shooter. Tightly designed, cleverly written, well put-together, from a collaboration between two of the most reliably competent genre leaders in the industry. It didn’t go seriously over budget, it wasn’t late, it wasn’t buggy, it didn’t promise one thing and deliver another, and it didn’t rehash World War II or Americans-killing-Arabs memes. The critical reception ranged from positive to gushing; it shipped on every major platform. It was, by all accounts, the definition of a new IP blockbuster.
For a small segment of the internet population, April 20, 2014, was the end of the world.
I played Avengers Alliance on Facebook back when it was new in 2012, but only for a little while. I returned to it in early March, curious to see if it was even still around, and found the game to be much expanded, with many new characters and features that improved upon it. Clearly, it had continued to be healthy in my nearly two years of absence. I played on Playdom.com this time, which was separate from Facebook, and allowed you to easily friend other players in the local chat rather than spam everyone you know on the internet to try to get them to commit to a game so they can give you free stuff.
I liked it. But you know what they say about all good things.
I read comics. I also tend to draw certain comparisons between the comics industry and the video game industry, whether it’s their history of being accused of corrupting their consumers through violent content, or the general stigma of being “kids’ stuff” despite all evidence to the contrary.
And like video game players, comic readers – certainly those that consider themselves fans – tend to be very passionate about the medium and the characters and creators they follow. It’s easy still to discount comics as all capes and costumes, if you’re on the outside, because that’s still where the money (relatively speaking) is, and that’s what gets made into movies. But as a medium, comics host many nuanced and personal stories across all genres, things that speak to readers in ways that stuff with a higher budget – television or movies, say – often cannot afford in their quest to appeal to the broadest audience possible.
But hey, there’s nothing wrong with superheroes, either; Marvel, in their new Ms. Marvel ongoing, has recently premiered a title character who is an American Muslim teenager, the daughter of Pakistani immigrants. How many places in American culture, even now, can you find that very real part of the American population represented, much less in a positive, leading role?
Regrettably, though, I’m not compelled to write this because of my favorite media moving forward. I’m compelled to write this because of my favorite media being held back.
I arrived at PAX East 2014 on Friday morning. I didn’t make any specific press appointments this year and my schedule for panels was pretty sparse. I walked into the convention center with an open mind, wondering what would grab my attention. At first I felt overwhelmed. The expo hall at PAX East was as loud and boisterous as ever, with the big players occupying noisy booths and holding tournaments and giveaways. The lines to try …
People think it’s an obsession. A compulsion. As if there were an irresistible impulse to act. It’s never been like that. I chose this life. I know what I’m doing. And on any given day, I could stop doing it. Today, however, isn’t that day. And tomorrow won’t be either.
Batman: Identity Crisis
by Brad Meltzer, 2004
That quote, more than anything, sums up the character that will form the centrepiece of this article; one who has transcended printed page, cinema and television screen, and now onto gaming consoles and PCs.
“So do you guys have, um, any screenshots of this stuff?” I asked, in what was clearly the most professional possible way after getting a demo of EVE: Valkyrie from the Oculus Rift team at GDC.
I thought Arkham Origins was good, even if it fell short of its predecessors. Tough acts to follow. In true internet form, of course, the narrative quickly became that Origins was hugely disappointing. Things are either a huge success or a monstrous failure these days, I suppose.
Of course, many – myself included – point at the decision to take Rocksteady off the series and instead develop Origins in-house at Warner Bros. Games Montreal. This seemed like the usual corporate tomfoolery that, at a certain point, we’ve all come to expect when a big publisher has a killer franchise on their hands, abandoning the studio that had forged a path and counting on name recognition to continue to move copies. This – coupled with the fact that Origins was a prequel – felt particularly egregious, considering the conclusion of Arkham City.
Rocksteady was mum for a while on what they were doing instead of a third Arkham game. It turns out that what they were doing was the fourth Arkham game.
Historically, when a studio is successful, its leadership attempts to capitalize on that success while continuing the trend.
Old-skool thinking, proclaim a new and ballsy generation of game developers. Entirely red ocean. We are pioneers of a new strategy. These days, rather than attempting to build on a successful model, it’s trendy to kill the studio and fire everyone. It worked for GSC Game World, where Sergey Grigorovich shuttered the place and sacked about a hundred people rather than continue development on the promising, money-printing STALKER franchise. Evidently emboldened by this, Ken Levine at Irrational Games has decided to do basically the same thing – he is “winding” Irrational Games down, letting the vast majority of its staff go, and starting something new and smaller under the Take-Two banner.
One of the most interesting things about the IndieCade East conference is that it takes place in [a] museum. I’m always fascinated by how the placement of video games in museum spaces changes their meaning and context. The Museum of the Moving Image is open for regular business during the run of the festival, and festival organizers work hard to make sure that there is enough space that not only can dedicated festival-goers see the event, but the regular public in New York City can see some of it too. As a result it provides a unique opportunity to watch people play indie video games in a public space. I played a lot of games at the show, but watching other people play games was more interesting.
Kickstarter, Greenlight, Early Access, pre-alpha, alpha previews, closed betas, open betas, demos, full release! Post-release, DLC, expansions, mods, third-party utilities and patches, hell, even subscriptions, pay to play, free to play and voluntary donations… gaming evidently isn’t like any other medium. But we all knew that anyway, and that’s kind of why we love it.
Once, when I was teaching, I brought the original BioShock into the classroom to show it off to students. We plugged the 360 into a big projector and played it large. I handed the controller to a student and let him play around.
I was kind of fascinated by the response.
We don’t usually bother with news around here, but sometimes it’s News and deserves a remark.
The Industry said a collective “whoa” on Friday when it learned that John Carmack, programming megamind and id Software co-founder, creator of Doom and Quake and Rage, has left the company he built. Several months ago Carmack took on a new role as Chief Technology Officer at Oculus VR – they of the eventual Oculus Rift headset – and it’s on this role that he is going to focus his attention.
Or, XCOM: Enemy GETS TO MOVE DURING MY TURN
Or, XCOM: Enemy CAN BE HEADSHOT OUT OF SIGHT THROUGH A CAR WITH AN 88% CHANCE TO HIT
Or, XCOM: Enemy IS LESS DANGEROUS THAN MY OWN PANICKED SOLDIERS
“No,” is my guess.
I’m as guilty as the next fan of speculating unfairly about things, though I’ve tried – hard – to withhold judgment on Eidos Montreal’s upcoming Thief. It hasn’t been easy, and I haven’t been wholly successful. But I remind myself that this studio also gave us the workmanlike but excellent Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and I feel a little better. “Teams” and “studios” aren’t the same thing, though, and so far there’s been little evidence that the development team behind Thief understands the franchise they’re working with to the degree that the Deus Ex folks understood theirs.