Mafia III Will Utilize Racism as a Gameplay Mechanic

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The upcoming 2K game’s/Hanger 13’s “Mafia III” has some interesting gameplay elements that may change the way gamers think about racism in America. Set during the late 1960s, Mafia 3 places players in the role of Lincoln Clay, an African American Vietnam War veteran who is returning to his home after serving overseas. The game’s narrative has Clay seeking revenge on the Italian Mafia for the deaths of several of his childhood friends. To enact revenge, Clay will form his own mafia in the hopes of achieving revenge for his friends and earning himself a better life.

For anyone who has played a Mafia game in the past, this doesn’t sound far off from standard fare. However, this will be first time the series has introduced a character of color as the main protagonist for the game. For the developers, this isn’t a cosmetic change they wanted to make lightly: creating a character of color set in the world of  the 1960s means that the character would interact with the world differently than a white character. As a result, the developers decided to make how characters and area react to the protagonist’s skin color a part of the gameplay itself.

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Haden Blackman and Harms, creative director and lead writer of Mafia III respectively, shared some insight with IGN on how they’re making Mafia III reflect the turbulent times of the 1960s:

The behavior of pedestrians and NPCs – certainly not everywhere throughout the game, but in large sections of it – there are places where if Lincoln looks out of place and seems out of place, people will react to that…There are places you can go that just being there is an offence and will elicit a police response. ..We aren’t so naïve to think that a single game could cure racism, but if we can get the player to think, ‘Why am I being treated differently here than in other parts of town?’ then I think we’ve done something worthwhile.”

It’s an innovative design element, one that could potentially open some eyes to hardships that many people of color face in their every day lives. We’ll have to see how it’s fully implemented when Mafia 3 comes out in the fall, but it’s great to see a developer be cognizant  enough to  realize that their characters and action have to reflect the world in which they are set. As Haden Blackman eludes to, if the game can change the way people think about privilege and make people even slightly more sympathetic to those who have to deal with everyday racism then the game will have accomplished something great.

Check out IGN’s piece on Mafia III

Crowdfunding and Shenmue 3: Where We Are and What It Means

A couple years back I wrote an article about how Crowdfunding was increasingly a route for independent developers to use to jump start and create their passion products. I asked the question as to when we would see bigger developers and franchises turn towards crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and GoFundMe to revive beloved franchises that didn’t receive the financial response they needed to secure sequels. Well, that’s happened. The dream is real, and Shenmue 3 is now something that will be made.

qO727H4I could gush on for hours on why I am excited about Shenmue 3, but I won’t. The game’s announcement, however, has some historical importance I believe should be discussed. The game represents a shift in the gaming industry that may change how certain developers gain funds and support for titles. Yu Suzuki tentatively “announced” Shenmue 3 at the Sony E3 conference to gauge support for the game. Obviously support and interest was  there, as the 2 million goal was reached in less than 10 hours.  Once reached, backers (specifically Sony) agreed to contribute support to the game to ensure its development. Not only was it the fastest funded video game project yet, it looks like it may be the highest funded one when it concludes.

Why does this matter to sociology? With games like Shenmue 3, Yooka-Laylee, and the Mighty Number 9, developers have options to create games that may not otherwise  be made. Not only that, but with fans being a major force in backing the game the game really becomes by the fans for the fans. Yu Suzuki has stated that he will involve fans in numerous ways  during the development, including even potentially having major donors be characters or voices inside the game. This form of development creates a unique exchange between developer and fans and links the two more prominently than ever before. In doing so, this relationship between fans and developers creates a community around the game that may lead to a strengthening in development and experience. This community and exchange between developers and fans is a sociologically interesting one because it dramatically changes how we view and interact with the game’s we play.  Games and gaming developers are no longer entities that exist outside of the reach of gamers; we are all now apart of the process.Obviously we’re at the start of this process, but the prospects are quite exciting.

Beyond development, Shenmue 3 proves that a niche crowd in gaming, one that is vocal and proactive enough, can make their desires reality. That’s an important shift in gaming, one that can inspire other passion projects or long awaited sequels to see the light of day.

So, let’s start out on this new journey of an era in which no game’s development is out of the question.

SUPPORT THE KICKSTARTER HERE!

WATCH THE ANNOUNCEMENT VIDEO HERE!

Fans Disappointed With Ubisoft’s Lack of Gender Choices in Upcoming Assassin’s Creed Unity

Fans Disappointed With Ubisoft’s Lack of Gender Choices in Upcoming Assassin’s Creed Unity

It’s been a fun week of demos, conferences, and mostly announcements for First Person Shooters. Between announcing games in which people shoot each others’ heads off, Ubisoft announced the newest entry into their Assassin’s Creed franchise. The game is the first game in the franchise to offer co-op play, allowing up to 4 players at once. That’s all fine and dandy, but fans are disappointed with Ubisoft for something besides them announcing another AC game; fans are upset that the game will feature no playable female characters. Alright, you may be saying “Hey, dingbat. Lots of games don’t feature female characters”, but it’s pretty silly when other games in the franchise have featured playable female characters. With 4 main protagonists in the game, surely they could have put one in.

So what’s Ubisoft gotta say about this lack of gender choices?

“It’s double the animations, it’s double the voices, all that stuff and double the visual assets…Especially because we have customizable assassins. It was really a lot of extra production work.”

DOING THINGS FOR BOTH MEN AND WOMEN IS HARD. I get it, it’s true that having to animate, design, and whatever else a female character would add production time to the game, but really? For a company like Ubisoft, who has been releasing an Assassin’s Creed game almost annually, to play the workload card is a little absurd. How about spacing the games out a little more to add this one customization in? The company went on to explain that designing a female character is increasingly difficult because they  don’t have a”female reader for the character” at their disposal, nor do they have “all the animations in place.” A spokemen went on to explain that designing a female character is different from a male one, because they look, act, and walk different. After he said that, the world smallest violin was played for him.

It’s not only fans reacting to the statements of Ubisoft either, as other game developers have added their voice to the subject matter.

Jonathan Cooper of Naught Dog calling  them out for being both lazy and…incorrect? This one  from Tim Borrelli from 5thcell is in response to female characters looking and acting different.

One last one from industry types (I forget who they are with)

All in all, fans and developers aren’t happy with Ubisofts response and laziness on the matter. Come on Ubi, you’re not an independent developer struggling here; the Assassin’s Creed franchise is a huge one and we expect more out of they. They should probably use some of that Babyz and Dogz money to fix this fiasco, but we probably won’t see that happen. Who knows how this will change future Assassin’s Creed games or ever the upcoming Unity.

BLOG NEWS!

For those who subscribe or check in regularly, you may notice the domain has lost the “wordpress” and is not just a .com! Exciting times people. We are now a registered domain! Will the blogs level of terribleness lessen? PROBBBBABBBLLLLYYYY NOOTTTTTTT

 

 

Nintendo at E3: More Gender inclusion (Is that a female Link!?)

Nintendo’s digital event went live this morning, and they showed off an array of games including the first footage of the upcoming Zelda game, Smash Brothers, and Yoshi title.

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As we discussed during last year’s E3, Nintendo has really been upping the amount of female protagonists in their recent titles. They are continuing this trend this year by announcing several games with playable protagonists who are female.

-Hyrule Warriors currently features 3 of 4 female characters as protagonists, including Impa, Midna, and Zelda.

-More female characters in Smash brothers than ever before, including new entries such as Palutena, Wii-Fit Trainer, and a female villager.

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However, the biggest news seems to be coming out of one of Nintendo’s biggest franchise: The Legend of Zelda. While unconfirmed, it seems as though we may be a Link whose gender is up for customization. I…can’t tell. Link has a ponytail and is certainly looking a lot more feminine than in previous entries. It could honestly go either way: is Link becoming more androgynous, or can you change the character’s gender? With the news of the gaming being more open world, it’s not unlikely that Link will be more changeable than ever before. Guess we’ll find out as more details about the game come out.

 

2014 Nielsen Report on Video Game Consumption

2014 Nielsen Report on Video Game Consumption

The folks over at the Nielsen Report (You know, the people who tell you that your favorite show will probably get canceled) have released their 2014 report on video game consumption. The Nielsen report is more of a general observation on video game consumption that other outlets. For a more detailed look, I recommend checking out the ESA’s 2014 report on video game consumption.

So what do these guys named Niels (I assume everyone that compiles this data is named Niel) have to say about video game consumption?

#1: People are spending more time playing video games!

Up from 2012 and 2011, gamers are putting more hours into gaming each week. This would mean that the average gamer puts a little less than an hour of gaming in a day. Neato.  That’s an extra hour of Pokeymans than last year! This increase could very well be due to the increase of popularity in mobile games, which enables players to play on the go.

#2: The number of console gamers who also play on mobiles is increasing!

This isn’t that surprising. As smart-phones and tablets become more and more common place so does the amount of gamers playing games on these devices. You’re not going to not playing games on a mobile device you already have, right? I mean that would be insanity…so of course I will devote days of my life to “Candy Crush” like the electronic heroine that it is.

#3: Mobile Games/Tablets are increasingly growing in the amount of gaming time played!

Although the number of hours spent on gaming is increasing, much of the share of the time is being given to mobile and tablet games. However, console games are still the norm and still make up the majority of gaming time spent. Likewise, newer consoles (Wii U/Xbox One/ PS4) are gradually building audiences while last generation consoles still make up the majority. We’ll probably see this percentages shift in the next two years, but as of this year many gamers have yet to make the jump to next gen.

That’s pretty much all the Niels have to say. Not real revelations, but interesting nonetheless. It’s pretty nifty to see in numbers the increase in popularity that video games are having. As these numbers grow, it becomes increasingly more pertinent that we evaluate all the sociological issues around video games. If only someone would do that…instead of what we’re doing here, which only amounts to nonsense.

NOW ONTO E3 WHERE ALL OF OUR DREAMS AND NIGHTMARE WILL COME TRUE!

Is Nintendo Being More Gender Inclusive?

With E3 having wrapped up last week, we’re now left with the empty void of having to now wait for many of the games announced to actually come out. Of course there were a lot of headlines: Microsoft announcing ridiculous restrictions on their console, Sony relentlessly attacking Microsoft for their restrictions on their console, and then Microsoft reversing their decision on said restrictions. Fun stuff. Perhaps the least provocative at E3 was Nintendo, who chose not to do a formal E3 conference, but instead a Nintendo direct released online. While I could go on and on about what they did or didn’t announce, I’ll spare you the rant. However, one interesting thing to come out of Nintendo this year is the number of female protagonists in their showing this year.

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Of the games Nintendo Highlighted this year, most of the games featured female protagonists, or at least playable female characters. This comes as more of surprise, as many of the games with female protagonists are series that have traditionally had male protagonists only. Does this mean Nintendo is being more gender inclusive in their games? Have they heard the pleas of female gamers and well known female gaming critics like Anita Sarkeesian? Is the world going mad? SHOULD I SELL ALL MY VIDEO GAMES FOR CANNED BEANS?

Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at some of the games Nintendo previewed this year.

Super Mario World 3D

The newest Super Mario game to be announced, Super Mario World 3D features Princess Peach as a main playable character. This is the first time she has been playable in a mainline Mario platformer since the American Super Mario 2 on the NES in 1987, which was only a fluke because the game it was sprite swapped with “Doki Doki Panic” had a female character! Of course the game also features Mario and friends in Cat suits clawing around and meowing like cats, so…maybe they thought Peach would fit right in? The amount of furry drawings will be horrendous.

Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze

Returning to the franchise after being absent from Donkey Kong platformers since Donkey Kong County 3 in 1996 is Dixie Kong. She joins Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong on their second outing from Retro studios.  Fans of DKC will already know what Dixie can bring to the table, as she was the starring character in both Country 2 and 3. As long as we don’t see that creepy Baby character that occupanied Dixie in DKC3, I’ll be happy. Also, I think there’s a healthy chance we’ll see her show her face in the newest Smash Brothers.

 

Pikmin 3

One of the bigger surprises is the inclusion of a female character in Nintendo’s Pikmin 3, which will release later this summer. Up until this point the franchise had only focused on Captain Olimar (and later joined by Louie) as he charted an unknown land were he assigns tasks based on the color of the pikmin’s skin. Brittany, seen in pink,  joins Alph and Charlie on the Pikmin planet for some adventure and countless death of Pikmin at the hands of other larger animals. We’ll see how she fares in a few weeks.

Beyond these main titles, many of their other games showed look to include playable female characters, including Mario Kart Wii U, The Wonderful 101, and Super Smash Brothers X.

So there you have it. Is Nintendo turning a new leaf on their perspective on female gamers?  Either way, it’s refreshing. As many analysts and gamers pointed out, companies such as Microsoft showed no games with female protagonists this E3, so Nintendo really is out in front this year. This is kind of new for Nintendo, as Nintendo has historically been a much more old fashioned kind of developer. Yes, they have had franchises with female leads (Metroid, Drill Dozer), but for their most popular franchises like Mario and Zelda they have typically relied upon female characters that are stereotypes or cliches. Perhaps with the advent of the Wii’s popularity in recent year they now know they can no longer ignore the population of female gamers.

Lessons from the Social World: Mega Man

In light of Mega Man joining the roster of Super Smash Brothers, why don’t we take a dive in to looking at what Mega Man, the blue bomber, has to say about the social world:

Shootin’ and stealin’ all day

Before I start, let’s get it out in the open. I’m a big Mega Man fan, and not only of the good series like Classic and Legends, but the crappy ones too like Starforce! But it’s not just me, with the series spanning over 25 years Mega Man has been an influence on an  entire generations of kids and gamers. For the sake of this article, I’m going to be focusing on the original 2 series (X and Classic), but so much could be said about the oddities of some of the other series.

So what this little guy teaching us?

INDUSTRY!

Rock is a man of industry, and I’m not just speaking to the fact that he’s a robot. If you look at the original Mega Man games, what’s Mega Man doing besides going around, dominating an industry and then using its resources to dominate others? Nothing. He’s arguably the most capitalist character out there. I mean, the guy steals the bosses weapons and then uses the same weapon against another boss- what a cut throat bastard! Really, Mega Man is the industrial leader: he dominates industries one by one with an iron fist (Metal, same difference) until he’s has defeated (or owns) them all. Now, of course not many kids are going to be playing Mega Man and gradually learning lessons about cut throat business tactics, but the series certainly has a capitalistic spin on it. Time and time again Dr. Wily tries to make a product that can best Dr. Light’s finest product, but of course time and time again he fails. Of course, we’re led to believe that’s because Mega Man is fighting for the common good and Wily is only fighting for evil, but certainly Mega Man is quality product. Like Astroboy, (Who Mega Man is undeniably inspired by, and the original game started as an Astroboy game) Mega Man is fighting on the behalf of humans against the evils of the world and that’s not such a bad storyline for kids to follow.

Of course, later on the X series is more murky and robots have kind of taken over.. and they bleed. and it’s scary.

THE WOES OF INDUSTRIALIZATION

“DON’T DO IT MEGA! YOU CAN’T SERVE TIME AGAIN!”

All of the MegaMan franchises take place in future where robots co-exist with humans, but the brunt of the problems  come from robots rebelling and doing harm to humans. In the originals there’s still a human at the helm, but further along in the series the robots are self-aware enough to know what they’re doing. “Going Maverick”, as the X series describe, is rebelling against their human creators. In fact, one of the series main characters, Zero, is supposed to be a robot who has led a massacre against humans and robots alike. So.. it’s pretty much a dystopian future. The key problem in the series is excess and overpowerful machines; fear of technology. Now of course, that seems cyclical as the series protagonist and antagonist are both machines (industry vs industry), but it seems apparent that the series is warning against technology becoming over powered and over used. Of course, that’s probably not a true concern of Capcom, developer of video games…but it works for the series. Of course, it also wouldn’t be the only franchise to put up technology and industrialization as a key problem in the gaming world (We’ll talk about Sonic at some point…). That said, it’s not really a bad subject to instill in kids. To question and value technology is something that we should all do, less we become brainwashed and over saturated. Mega Man lets us take a look at what technology is really doing for us, and where it’s going.

But really, the game just teaches you not eff with robots.

The world is your Oyster: Use it.

As I mentioned before, Mega Man is just a dirty rotten stealer. No, really. He comes to your house, destroys your friends and pets (who happen to drop pictures of his face, clearly meaning they’re fans of his), shoots you, and then steals your greatest attribute to then use to burglarize other people’s homes. He’s terrible. But what’s all of this home invasion really telling us? Mega Man, like many games, is teaching us that we should to be the best. How do we become the best? By defeating others and using whatever skills necessary. Healthy competition, eh? But really it’s not so sinister, learning from battles and learning from your mistakes is a big part of the franchise. The classic games themselves were the epitome of the try-again gameplay in which gamers learned from their mistakes after mercilessly dying many times. That’s a healthy thing to learn: not all things all easy, but if you stick to them and keep at it you’ll eventually prevail (Unless there’s disappearing blocks, then you’ll just go insane). Likewise, the franchise teaches us that you may not always start out being the best or being the strongest, but if you work towards it you can improve yourself by learning from your encounters and using what you’ve learned in the future.

In the end, good prevails and evil will be fought back. That’s kind of nice, right?

Other Quick Lessons:

  • The prison system sucks and is not robot proof.
  • Most robots are men, and the only female ones have to stay at home.
  • No matter how many times you die you can always be rebuilt.
  • Viruses make robots go insane and murder.
  • Beware of your Roomba
  • Scientists are the real global threat.
  • A gun is all you need. A gun that steals others guns.

So that’s all. I hope you enjoyed this ridiculous impromptu look at the Mega Man franchise. They really are great games that all should play, especially the originals and Legends franchise. If you enjoy these looks at classic franchises in this manner, please let me know and I’ll continue doing them.

Until next time, I’m just excited for Mega Man in Smash.