Last of Us Devs Had to Fight for Everything Female

The Last of Us

As you may know, Naughty Dog’s upcoming post-apocalyptic tale The Last of Us stars a pair of main characters: a grizzly, bearded man named Joel, and a teenage girl named Ellie who bears a passing resemblance to Ellen Page. However, as the developers do publicity and interviews in preparation for the game’s upcoming release, it’s becoming more and more clear that Naughty Dog had to fight to keep Ellie in the spotlight. I find that particularly interesting because Ellie is by far the more memorable and striking of the two characters.

For example, in a recent interview with The Escapist, Naughty Dog’s Neil Druckmann explained that “the research group wasn’t planning on focus-testing female gamers – it’s something we had to specifically request”. This paired with the fact that they also had to insist that Ellie be included on the cover of the game paints the state of game marketing in a particularly dispiriting light. Apparently the going wisdom is that women don’t play videogames, so they shouldn’t focus test them, and men won’t buy games with women on the cover.

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Long Read: The Rise and Fall of Milo and Kate

Milo and Kate

Remember Milo and Kate, the infamous tech demo from the original Kinect announcement? You can be sure that everyone who worked at Lionhead under Peter Molyneux does. Over at Polygon, Matt Leone has a fascinating in-depth article about the long development history and DNA of the project. It turns out that Milo has roots in a failed project called Dmitri that began all the way back in 2001. Milo is still a sore subject at Lionhead, so a lot of the quotes are off the record, but the article is definitely still worth a read if you’re interested in some of the behind-the-scenes goings on at a game developer.

Molyneux definitely has a long, strange history in game development; in the early years, before Lionhead and Microsoft, it seemed like he could do no wrong. I never played Black and White or any of his early games like Populous, but I remember people raving about them at the time. At Lionhead, Molyneux became known for games like Fable, which over-promised and under-delivered but still sold well enough to produce sequels. That tendency towards over-promising weird, ambitious gameplay mechanics eventually became the inspiration for parody. However, I do think there is something admirable in Molyneux’s desire to find new ways to approach games; I just get the impression that never meshed very well with the business concerns of a large corporation like Microsoft or with the realities of the modern-day console development cycle.

Have any of you ever played Molyneux’s early work? Are you looking forward to whatever crazy idea he comes up with next? Let us know in the comments!

Review: Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider’s 2013 reboot from Crystal Dynamics comes with a lot of expectations up front. Lara Croft and Tomb Raider have been a huge part of gaming and pop culture since the first game was released in 1996. The original series spans a total of nine(!) games including the Anniversary remake, all of which stick to a fairly standard formula: rich, buxom Croft runs around underdressed in ancient tombs, shooting things and solving puzzles.

That formula combined with total media saturation in the late 90s and early ‘aughts meant that Tomb Raider slowly but surely slid into the realm of disappointing sales and irrelevance. If any game franchise was due for a complete overhaul, Tomb Raider is it. Gritty reboots are fashionable these days, but does that mean you should give Tomb Raider the time of day?

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Tomb Raider’s Rhianna Pratchett Interviewed at The PA Report

Tomb Raider

Today at Penny Arcade Report, Ben Kuchera interviews Rhianna Pratchett, writer of the Tomb Raider reboot (and daughter of British national treasure Terry Pratchett). In the first part of the interview, they discuss the controversy surrounding the game’s PR blunders as well as Pratchett’s personal history with the Tomb Raider franchise and her approach to rebooting the game.

I especially liked her response to a question about how the reveal that she was the head writer affected perception of the game’s content:

It’s not fine because I’m a woman. It’s fine because we approached it with the right creative sentiments. It was an honest scene for those characters and that moment. It wasn’t done for titillation. It wasn’t prolonged. It was uncomfortable because it should be uncomfortable.

I played through the first two hours of Tomb Raider last night, including the controversial moment that caused so much furor, and I can attest to the fact that in context the scene isn’t at all played for titillation. The game is definitely intense and occasionally brutal – the first time Lara died, I cringed – but it’s all done in service to some of the best game writing and pacing I’ve experienced in a very long time. My heart was pounding for most of those first two hours, and it wasn’t because I was trying to “protect a woman”.

How about you? Did anyone else pick up Tomb Raider? Have you played through the controversial part of the game?

Unexpected Pleasures in Saint’s Row 3

Saints Row the Third

As many of you may know, I am the proud owner of a new gaming PC, so naturally I’ve been digging through my backlog of Steam games to put the new machine through its paces. Thanks to various sales, I have a pretty sizable collection of games despite not having a rig worthy of running them until now. One of the games I’ve been playing the most is Saints Row: The Third, which I bought as part of the THQ Humble Bundle. The funny thing, though, is that I didn’t buy the bundle thinking I’d end up playing much Saints Row; it was more that I’m a sucker for a sale price and thought some of the other games in the bundle might be worth checking out.

Part of the fun of my new machine is launching games and seeing how they run with all settings maxed out, so I spent most of one Saturday launching one game after another and playing with the settings. Much to my surprise, Saints Row is actually a gorgeous game, especially on the highest settings. Once that sank in, I realized that I was also having a hell of a lot of fun playing the opening set piece during a bank robbery gone wrong. Pretty soon after that, the game had its hooks in me, and I ended up playing it for a good six hour session the following weekend.

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JJ Abrams and Gabe Newell on Storytelling

Abrams and Newell

On Wednesday, JJ Abrams and Gabe Newell sat down for a session at the 2013 DICE summit where they discussed the strengths and weaknesses of games and movies as storytelling mediums. Polygon has a liveblog of the chat, and it’s definitely worth reading to get a sense of their alternating points. Newell argued for the value of player agency, of letting gamers be “architects of their own amusement”, whereas Abrams argued in favor of film’s “machinery” of storytelling, which allows for narrative control. They played clips from games and movies, and each made some excellent, thoughtful arguments.

Their discussion of the different forms of storytelling was especially exciting because they ended by announcing that Abrams and Valve are planning on collaborating on a game as well as possible Portal or Half-Life movies. If it’s even possible to make a decent movie out of a game, I think JJ Abrams could be the guy to do it. However, of the two properties, I think Half-Life is a bit better suited to the movie treatment, simply because there are more characters and settings to work with. Of course, Gordon Freeman would definitely end up talking in a movie version, and that might ruin some of his carefully cultivated mystique…

How about you? Do you find the prospect of a Portal or Half-Life movie exciting? Will you be curious to see what kind of game Abrams might make with Valve? How much would your head explode if a Half-Life movie came out before Episode 3? Let us know in the comments.

Source – Polygon

Borderlands 2: A Tiny Bit Racist?

Tiny Tina

Over the weekend, an argument/discussion broke out on Twitter between Anthony Burch, lead writer for Borderlands 2, and Mike Sacco, a (now former) game designer at Cryptozoic, about Borderlands 2’s Tiny Tina, a character that Sacco felt was “problematic”. Kotaku has the run-down, but, as always, don’t read the comments section unless you feel like bleaching out your brain afterwards. Sacco wasn’t fired for starting the discussion, but when Cryptozoic asked him to disassociate himself from the company online and stop talking about Tiny Tina, he didn’t think the second requirement was appropriate, so he quit.

Sacco’s main concern was that Tiny Tina is white but uses what he considers “urban” slang. When I heard that, I couldn’t quite wrap my head around it, especially because Sacco insists that the character is “actively racist” for using slang terms like “crunk” and “badonkadonk” that have been common in pop culture for decades. Now, it’s obviously true that there are slang terms that are off-limits to white people; for example, one of my favorite songs by A Tribe Called Quest has a chorus I can’t sing along with. However, while it’s completely understandable why a loaded slur would be off-limits, it’s think it’s a bit of a stretch to say that goofy slang terms without negative connotations should also be off-limits.

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Achievements: Unlocking Negative Gameplay?


Achievements have definitely had a huge impact on the way I play games. A few years ago I played Oblivion well past the point of enjoyment because I knew for a fact that if I just played long enough I could get all of the achievements. It’s still the only game I’ve ever managed to 100%, but there have been several other times I’ve come close. Achievement hunting appeals to the obsessive collector in me, and if I don’t burn out on a game, I’m usually more than willing to spend a few hours after the endgame running around trying to do the oftentimes arbitrary tasks required to make them unlock.

That said, it didn’t surprise me to read designer Keith Burgun’s article about how achievements negatively affect gameplay. Burgun argues that “at their best, [achievements] do nothing at all. At their worst, they influence player behavior.” Now, I’m sure we all have stories of achievement hunters ruining multiplayer games. After all, if there’s an achievement for getting X kills with a knife in multiplayer, the end result is that you’re going to have a bunch of dudes running around trying to stab each other whether or not it actually makes tactical sense. It’s easy to see how achievements could negatively influence player behaviors when it comes to playing with a group of people, but what’s the big deal when it comes to playing solo? Continue reading Achievements: Unlocking Negative Gameplay?

DmC, Dye Jobs and Death Threats


First off, I should admit that I missed the boat on the Devil May Cry series when it was first released. I wasn’t much of a gamer during the PS2 era, so I didn’t pick up the original trilogy until I rented the HD compilation a few months ago. I didn’t play them for too long, but my impression was that they hadn’t aged well. The controls were old-fashioned and the dialogue was cringeworthy. Accordingly, I don’t really have any built-in expectations when it comes to DmC, the franchise reboot released last week.

However, the game is definitely provoking some strong reactions online. The reviews have been largely positive, but there is a faction of Devil May Cry fans who are outraged over the reboot’s changes to Dante’s look and backstory. Over at VG247, Brenna Hillier calls those angry fans to task in a strongly-worded post that seems designed to provoke a backlash. Erik Kain at Forbes obliges her by arguing that Hillier’s categorization of gamers as “entitled” is lazy and dismissive. Both posts have their problems – Hillier’s tone is extreme and Kain’s argument against accusations of entitlement is pretty limp – but I do think the overall discussion brings up some interesting topics.

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Review: Hotline Miami


When I first heard about Hotline Miami, I didn’t quite understand the attraction. My assumption was that it was just a gruesome beat-em-up with the old-fashioned pixellated visual style so common in indie games these days. I just wasn’t that interested in a game that appeared to involve nothing more than bashing in the heads of an endless number of goons. However, when I had a chance to pick it up on sale over the holidays for $2.50, I figured it couldn’t hurt to give it a try. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Hotline Miami is stranger and far more challenging that I was originally expecting, and I knew within a few hours of gameplay that it was worthy of a place on my personal top ten games of the year.

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Polygon: “Video games don’t create violence in society, they reflect it”


Polygon is a fairly recent addition to the world of gaming journalism, but they’re already doing an excellent job of posting thoughtful, well-written reporting. Since it’s “Did You See This” Wednesday, I thought I’d point you towards one of Brian Crecente’s recent posts on the subject of video game violence where he argues that video games reflect the violence in society and not the other way around.

Whenever another mass shooting happens in America, one of the first subjects brought up in the media is whether or not the shooter liked playing violent video games. Of course, studies have shown that “there is no good evidence that video games or other media contributes, even in a small way, to mass homicides or any other violence among youth“. So why, then, do we continue returning to the subject of video game violence as an explanation for real-world violence?

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Review: FEZ

April is one of those in-between months when it feels like all my most anticipated games are a good six months away, and no amount of refreshing my Amazon pre-order page will make Bioshock Infinite head my way any sooner. Thankfully, a bumper crop of excellent downloadable titles were released conveniently during this early springtime lull, just when I needed them most.

FEZ, one of the stars of the bunch, is a quirky side-scrolling platformer from Polytron Corporation. At first glance it seems like it might be nothing more than another indie throwback 2D side-scroller with a clever gimmick. However, there are hidden depths to this deceptively simple game, and I think the hype is more than justified. Read on to find out more about this gorgeous little side-scroller.

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Review: LittleBigPlanet 2

In retrospect, it seems kind of strange to admit that I didn’t quite understand the attraction of LittleBigPlanet at first. I remember playing the demo shortly after I bought my PS3 Slim and coming away a bit underwhelmed. LBP definitely had a unique, quirky style, but at the time I think I just wrote it off as nothing more than Sony’s attempt at staking their own system-exclusive claim on the platformer landscape.

However, I am always on the lookout for a good deal, and a few months ago I was able to get my hands on a copy of the LittleBigPlanet Game of The Year edition for a whopping $2.50 thanks to a handy promo credit. With the full game in my hands, I was finally able to overcome my initial skepticism and give it a fair shake.

The story levels were certainly entertaining enough, but I was most impressed by the robust, sophisticated community levels on offer. Fully experiencing the community aspect of the game is what really made it click for me, and my anticipation for the sequel began growing exponentially soon thereafter. In a very short amount of time, LittleBigPlanet 2 turned into a day one purchase for me. I’ve played it almost non-stop since getting my hands on it, and I feel I can safely say that LittleBigPlanet 2 has secured its position in my mind as one of the best games of 2011.

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Review: Enslaved: Odyssey To The West

In this age of constant over-exposure and gameplay trailers years in advance (even if it they look fantastic) it’s refreshing to be pleasantly surprised by a game that comes out of nowhere without much fanfare.

Until I started hearing rumblings about how great the screenshots and trailers looked, Enslaved: Odyssey To The West wasn’t even on my radar. However, I made sure to download the demo as soon as it dropped, and I was quickly hooked by the gorgeous visuals and engaging combat.

I liked it enough that I used some trade-in credit at GameStop to pick up the full game when it came out, and here I am a few weeks later with a verdict. The short version is that I’d love to see more underdog titles like Enslaved come up from behind to provide a bit of entertainment between the garden-variety triple-A sequel/franchise/FPS releases. Read on to find out more.
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Hulu: Plus… or Minus?

Remember me? I know I haven’t posted here in a while, but I thought I’d pop my head in and share my experiences with the newly launched Hulu Plus on the PS3. For those of you outside the US… I think Anthony wrote something humorous about a videogame!

Weaning myself off of an expensive dependence on cable TV has been a dream of mine for a while now, but the sticking point has always been that I absolutely rely on my DVR. As soon as the Hulu Plus service was announced, I knew that I had to check it out, and I decided that paying $20 for three months of PSN Plus was a worthwhile trade off – it’s still cheaper than what I was paying for cable.

My previous experiences with Hulu on my TV have been thanks to a handy adapter cable and my MacBook. It’s not pretty, but it works. It’s just kind of a pain in the ass to set it up each time. Still, I think it’s fair to compare that setup with the PS3 implementation. After the jump, I’ll run down each method’s convenience, show availability, video quality, and interface.

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Review: BioShock 2

As the cover for BioShock 2 tells you, it is the “sequel to [the] Game of the Year”. Cheeky, that, but in many ways that bit of advertising copy defines this sequel, for better or for worse. BioShock 2 has big shoes to fill, and a lot of people were either full of anticipation that the second go-round would be as inventive and atmospheric as the first, or instantly dismissive of something that could never live up to the original.

The original game has a reputation of excellence from most quarters. It’s actually the first game I played this generation, when I picked up my 360 back in 2008. I had heard so much about BioShock that I just had to check it out. Also, I’ve always been a fan of “horror” games, which BioShock is to a certain degree. It isn’t a full-bore jump-and-scream gorefest, but it does have an evocative setting and deliberate pacing that fills you with tension and certainly creeped me out.

So when a sequel was announced, I was instantly excited. I loved the setting of the original game, and no amount of multiplayer or skeptical friends were going to keep me from picking up the sequel on release day. Here I am a week later to tell you how it all stands up.

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PAX 2009 Report


My brother, Evan, lives in the Seattle area, so of course he attended PAX. Nick, Eddy and I might have gone, except we were busily working on a Smooth Few Films mystery project. Maybe next year? Anyways, enjoy his extremely detailed report on the con! He only had to fight off a bit of the flu to bring it our way.


I think I understand what a journalist must feel like at times: There was so much going on that I just want the chance to tell people about it all, because you could go through the entire show for all three days and still not run out of things to see.
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Review: Shadow Complex

0890bb2779david.jpgAlright, first things first: this is a review of the game itself. If you have anything political to say, please reserve those comments for Eddy’s thread from earlier this week.

With that out of the way, let’s get down to the details, shall we? Shadow Complex is an Xbox Live Arcade game created by Chair Entertainment and released August 19th, 2009. It retails for for $15, whatever that translates to in Microsoft magic money. I’m sure most folks have at least heard of it by now. Per Major Nelson’s site, it was the top selling game on XBLA this past week as well as the #8 most played game on Live. That’s pretty impressive. I suppose this review is for those of you still on the fence about buying it.

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Time Well Spent

elder-scrolls-iv-oblivion-screenshot-_41I have a decent collection of games for the 360 – more than a dozen, if you count XBLA titles – but the game I’ve played far more than any other is Oblivion. At last count, I’ve put in somewhere in the neighborhood of 140 hours. I have a friend who has put in 200+ hours and he hasn’t even finished the main quest line. I think he just likes grinding in dungeons.

Now, I love the game, but I reached a point recently where I started wanting nothing more than to just beat the damn thing. That’s a bit of a herculean task when it comes to an open-world game like Oblivion. It’s not that I haven’t done my best. I’ve completed the main quest-line, as well as the quest-lines for almost all of the guilds and both the Knights of the Nine and the Shivering Isles expansion packs… but I’m not done yet because I don’t have all of the achievements.

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Review: 1 vs 100, Season 1

1 vs. 100 FailHi folks. Just a quick introduction here… I’m Jeff, sometimes known as JJ, sometimes known as Unsquare. I’m the webmaster of the Smooth Few Films and Gamersushi sites. I’ve been getting back into gaming over the past year ever since I purchased myself an XBox 360, and I’ve been feeling the desire to contribute to this site a bit more now that I actually have opinions on games and such. Hopefully you’ll start seeing posts from me every once in a while. Can’t promise they’ll be as hilarious as Anthony’s Phantasy Star adventures, however.

Anyways, enough about me. Recently, Eddy, Nick and I have been playing a lot of 1 vs. 100 on Xbox Live. It’s a surprisingly addictive game, and if you haven’t already checked it out, it’s a great way to spend a few hours with some friends and seems ideally designed for the party system.

None of us have played it enough to make it into the Mob, let alone the hallowed position of The One, but considering the people who do make it to that top position, I have to wonder what exactly we’re doing wrong. In some ways, The One has been the only really disappointing part of the 1 vs. 100 experience.

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