I’ll be away over the next few weeks so I’ve decided to do a four-parter and schedule it to post at my normal times so my one-a-week blog goal remains unbroken. I’ve been going now for over 6 months now and wanted to at least see out the end of 2015 with an ‘undefeated streak’.
To that end, I’ll be turning the blog’s focus a little more inward and talking about how my game in development (Sons of Sol: Crow’s Nest) came to be, what its influences are, the features of the game and certain design challenges that I’m facing. As it’s still in development and still just me on the team, this is all still in motion, but there should be good insights and new information for anyone who’s interested in reading. It will be interesting to compare these posts with a post-mortem for the game once it’s finally out, too.
So, with that out of the way..
What is Crow’s Nest?
I won’t wax lyrical here, you can check out the game’s page yourself, and either play the demo or watch the gameplay footage. Briefly, Sons of Sol: Crow’s Nest is an upcoming tactical space shooter with a strategy layer. I’ve described it as “Asteroids meets Total War”.
You can see some gameplay from the playable PC demo below. It’s early in development and due out in Q1 2017.
How Does Asteroids meet Total War, exactly?
So my pitch for Sons of Sol: Crow’s Nest is that it’s “Asteroids meets Total War” and I’ve found that this can get people interested quite effectively. How does a top-down space shooter from the 1970s tie in with one of the largest, most successful strategy game series in the world; one which, until Total War: Warhammer was announced, was set exclusively in historical Earth periods with swords and spears and massive armies?
To be fair I could also describe the game as “Wing Commander meets Xcom”, but a pitch has to be as catchy as possible, n’est pas?
The similarities between Asteroids and Crow’s Nest are pretty plain to see. They both have a small, triangular space fighter flying around an asteroid field, and, quite importantly, the ships are driven by Newtonian physics, meaning if you stop accelerating you will keep drifting. There’s no drag in space so you can turn on the spot and shoot backwards, and to slow down you have to turn around and thrust in the opposite direction.
The similarities really end there, though. In Crow’s Nest the goal is not to kill asteroids for points, the screen isn’t locked in position, and both you and the asteroids can take more than one hit.
Then from here I started building up more of a squadron-based thing, adding wing mates, squad orders, and reasonably intelligent enemies, as well as the ability to communicate with your fleet for reinforcements. Here, I was taking inspiration from Star Wars games like Rogue Squadron and X-Wing. I’ll talk about games that influenced Crow’s Nest in a follow-up part.
The important take-away is that Crow’s Nest has an action/combat layer presented in a classic arcade-like style.
The trailer above is for Shogun, the first Total War game in 2000. I haven’t played them all, but I beat this one so I know it represents some of the ideas I’m going for. You command your chosen family dynasty in feudal Japan during the Sengoku Jidai period of history. It’s a game of two halves. There’s the tactical combat side where you command individual army units in a single battle. This half of the game is represented in Crow’s Nest as the ‘Asteroids’ part.
The other side of the game is the strategy layer, where you have a map of all of Japan and time passes months at a time. You move your armies around the country to reinforce or attack territories (Risk style) and then fight the tactical battles for those areas using only the units you brought with you. No Command & Conquer-style building during a battle! But in addition to this, you could send spies, assassins and emissaries around the world. You could negotiate for peace or assassinate an opposing general the night before a battle, weakening his forces when you face them in the tactical layer.
You could also bring your own character (the Daimyo) into battle for big morale bonuses, but if you died in battle, you were dead. If you didn’t have an adult male heir, it was game over! If you did, you basically had an ‘extra life’. Similarly, if you won a battle but lost all of your cavalry, they were gone! You no longer had them to move around the strategy layer. This interplay leant real gravitas to every little decision, and to every death. I love these mechanics and knew I wanted them for Crow’s Nest.
My original idea was that you would control several fleets (as many as you could build/afford) in Crow’s Nest and defend a territory from pirate marauders. You would also send spies on missions to gather intel and attempt assassinations or to sabotage the enemy. When a tactical battle occurred, the losses and gains would persist back to the strategy layer. This is why I chose “Total War” as a suitable descriptor for my pitch.
As development went on, I decided that it might be better for you to control just a single fleet. This would make your flagship all the more precious to you, and prevent you from using steamroll tactics to the same extent. This way, even in the late game, battles would stay tense for the player. It would also limit the amount of pilots you have to dozens, not hundreds, and make their lives and progression matter more to you. This means that Xcom might be a better descriptor than Total War now, but as the strategy side in Crow’s Nest is still very early in development and prone to change, I haven’t decided whether to change the pitch yet.
Obviously, those four words aren’t my whole pitch, but they’re the short version.
What do you think of the pitch? Have you any experience pitching? Any advice? Would saying “Xcom” be better than “Total War”? Both franchises are currently doing well and get the point across to anyone who knows games.
Next Sunday, I’ll be posting Part 2, where I talk about the other games that have influenced the development of Crow’s Nest in a mini-review sort of way.
The next Far Cry game was revealed the week before last with the trailer above (well, after an elaborate time-wasting/hype-generating (?) live streamed cave painting thing). The noteworthy thing is that, for the first time, the game isn’t set in modern times, but in 10,000 BC!
You play Takkar, a hunter who’s lost his tribe to the bellies of sabre-tooth tigers and/or the now-squishy feet of woolly mammoths. The game takes place in a land called Oros, where you will climb the food chain and tame the wilds! Or something..
Coming so soon after the November 2014 release of Far Cry 4 (Primal will release in February 2016), many suspected that this was maybe a standalone expansion pack to that game, in the same way that Far Cry Blood Dragon was for Far Cry 3. But no, this is a full priced game, at $60 for PC.
Very little is known about the game yet, so for now let’s just give it some benefit of the doubt and assume that the game is of full length and going to be worth the money. If you’d like to gamble on that now, however, Ubisoft has you covered! You can of course pre-order immediately and get the Legend of the Mammoth content, whatever that is.
I’m not here to complain, though. I think this is a very bold move for Ubisoft and I’m very glad to see it happen. While I’m sure another team is busy cranking out Far Cry 5 somewhere, (which will be very similar to Far Cry 4, which was very similar to Far Cry 3) the Ubisoft Montreal team (with help) has stepped outside of the normal comfort zone of their franchise and tried something different. That at least has earned my respect and attention. Can you imagine Call of Duty setting their next game in a time period that had no guns?!
This also isn’t a magical or mythical 10,000 BC (to the best of our current knowledge). There are no dinosaurs, no magic, and seemingly no cop-outs. The game is discarding a lot of the things that the Far Cry series is known for. These would be:
luscious open-world environments (okay, check)
fire physics (yeah, okay, probably)
and -of late- wing suits (surely not) and riding elephants (probably).
What do they get in return for these sacrifices? Well, not a whole lot that we’ve seen so far. Spears and bows? The series already has bows and throwing knives. It also already had factions and crafting to a limited degree. Primal promises these things, but hopefully it’ll build them out in worthwhile ways.
We get mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers, but we already had elephants, tigers, rhinos and sharks. There’s no massive difference there, except maybe scale. This also has me a little nervous. Those two animals are featured prominently in the trailer and marketing material. Presumably, this is them putting their best foot forward, as is the marketing way, but these are not particularly innovative creatures for the Far Cry series. The elephant was new to Far Cry 4 and was a point their marketers tried to sell relentlessly. I don’t think a mammoth and no guns will make many people splash out $60+ for the new game. But, as I said, we know little about the rest of the game yet. The video below offers some French-accented clues.
They won’t commit
PC Gamer had a good article about what they would and wouldn’t like to see and, like me, were also concerned that “no guns” doesn’t really mean no guns. Maybe you could put some ‘boom powder’ in a stick to shoot rocks and things. Yeah, that’s a gun! And a crap gun, at that! I hope they commit to the vision, otherwise there was no point in tying their hands by setting the game in the Stone Age. But hey, the game launches in 4 months. Whether such a feature (or any others) is in or out has been decided long ago and won’t change now.
I’m also concerned that they’ll stretch some leather hide into a wing-suit “because Far Cry needs wing suits now. Put in in”. If you do that, you also need a parachute, mate, and earliest credit for those goes to Leonardo Da Vinci. Just commit, and we’ll be fine.
That this will be anything like the movie
I don’t mean the terrible Far Cry movie, but the even more terrible 10,000 BC movie, with an honourable 8% on Rotter Tomatoes. Seriously, am I the only one who’s seen it? Nobody has mentioned it in connection with this game yet, so far as I can tell.
I’m not saying these two things are similar, but they are both set in 10,000 BC, open with a pack of hunters sneaking towards a herd of mammoths, have the hero’s tribe slaughtered, and relocate the hero to a jungle environment. I hope to God the similarities end there. The resemblance is uncanny! It can’t have been accidental, and I’d be very worried about anything taking story tips from 10,000 BC the movie.
Why I’m Optimistic
As I said, we know so little yet, and my concerns may be totally unfounded. My optimism is equally unwarranted, but Ubisoft wouldn’t have taken a bet on stripping away core gameplay pillars if they had nothing to prop the rest up with (I hope). We could see some great new stuff!
In my swordfighting in games article last month I lamented how far melee combat in games had come (not far at all) over the years. The enemies in Far Cry Primal are known to not just to be wild beats, but also other hostile tribes, seen in the trailer wielding clubs. With no guns in the game, up-close combat is going to be very important. This could also be on my concerns list, because if we are expected to just repeat the tired old “step-back-to-avoid-enemy-swing, swing-yourself, step-in-to land-the-swing, repeat” formula this game will get old fast, and definitely mean that Ubisoft missed a trick. A AAA studio like them should be able to deliver us something interesting in a gun-less first person action game, and I hope they do! Blocking and different attacks at a minimum!
In all other Far Cry games, taking down any hostile animal has simply been a matter of hitting it with enough bullets or explosives.. or cars.. or some combination thereof. If you look at something like Horizon: Zero Dawn, we can see multi-staged approaches to weakening enemies, avoiding their attacks, and hitting different critical areas. I find it hard to believe that killing a mammoth in this game will be as dumb as hitting him with 100 sharp sticks. I’m hoping (and not spending a penny if it’s not the case) that taking down the mammoth, the main feature on the box art, will involve avoiding its charges, luring it into traps, and/or tricking it into rising up on its hind legs so you can then attack the soft underbelly. Any less than something resembling that would just be phoning it in, and unworthy of a Far Cry game.
It’s known that you need to work with friendly tribe members to conquer other tribes. The problem with games marketing is that it can be deliberately vague when it’s trying to inflate a feature. For example, I could say about Far Cry 2, 3, and 4 that you work with certain groups to conquer other groups, and it’s only technically true. In a practical sense, you do everything, and there might be a couple of other guys around to get shot for you.
If this has been expanded upon in any meaningful way, like having squad orders or abilities, there could be something unique in the game. It wouldn’t be hard to do for a studio to do in this day and age, but I somehow don’t expect much from this feature.
Same goes for crafting. Games 3 & 4 had crafting of limited items, but it wasn’t overly important. Crafting weapons and medicines for survival in the stone age would be very important. Ubisoft seem to be making a fuss over the crafting system so let’s hope there’s something to it.
I do think the announcement of this new direction is newsworthy, as it’s a bold move! Charging $60 for a game that seems like it’s been in production not much longer than a year is also a bold move, but we’ll see what it’s worth as details emerge in the run up to a February 23rd, 2016 console release (March for PC). I’ve my gripes with all the Far Cry games (and especially the Crysis ones) but I’ve always been a fan of the series (except Crysis 2 & 3). I can’t imagine that Primal will be too disappointing to a life-long Far Cry fan like myself, but I’ve been wrong before..
Hopefully, though, we’ll be getting a unique First Person (non-)Shooter. Are you excited? Guarded? Totally cynical? Do you know anything about this that I don’t? (If you’re from the future you’re cheating!) Leave a comment!
Until next time..
PS Check out my own game Sons of Sol: Crow’s Nest. A new combat demo has just gone up for browser play or PC download. I’d love to hear your feedback.
It’s been some week for games news and I’d no shortage of choices for what to write about today. Far Cry Primal was annoucned, Star Citzen revealed a lot of news at Citizen Con last night, (including the fact that Gary Oldman, Mark Hamill, Gillian Anderson, Andy Serkis and many others are acting for the single player story) and the Star Wars Battlefront Beta is in full swing. I decided to write on Battlefront in case it convinces anyone to give it a go tonight. It ends sometime tomorrow but it’s worth a look.
The game launches on November 17th in North America, and a few days after that in different regions. That’s just over a month away and means that this “Beta” is not really a beta in the usual sense of the word. The game is 99.9% complete. This is more of a demo of a few modes while they stress test servers for a smoother launch. They’re not (particularly, even though they have a survey) asking for gameplay suggestions. Any major features are now set in stone. This means that anything people see and don’t like in the Beta is probably still going to be there in the €60 release. Warts and all.
First, a brief history of Battlefront (3) and what led to this newest iteration.
In 2002, Dice and EA (the same pair responsible for this game) released Battlefield 1942, and have continued that very popular series ever since, with Battlefield Hardline being the most recent release.
In 2004, Lucasarts, as they have always been wont to do, hopped on the latest game craze with a Star Wars version of Battlefield called Star Wars Battlefront (1). This was well received and Battlefront 2 came out in 2005, but there’s been no new entries since.
Now, in 2015, Dice and EA, the makers of BattleFIELD are releasing the newest BattleFRONT game, with the same name as the original. Just to be confusing.
I’ve played all games in question, and the new Battlefront stands apart from all those others. Sure it’s a large multiplayer shooter set in large levels with vehicular combat, but it very much has its own take on things, so anyone fearing that it was just going to be a Star Wars skin on Battlefield can set those particular fears to rest.
How Is It Different?
The biggest departure from any of those games is that vehicles are now not lying empty on the map waiting for a driver. You find power-ups on the map for all sorts of things, including vehicles. The spawn points are semi-random. When you get one you can activate it to spawn a vehicle at the edge of the map and you hop right into it. You can’t exit the vehicle and are basically in it until you die (which won’t likely be too long).
This is a bold new take on a core mechanic of the Battle-x games. It has pros and cons. On the plus side, the vehicles can’t be damaged or stolen by the enemy team before they’re in use. This is a huge benefit to gameplay. It would annoy me to see Stormtroopers owning the sky by flying all the TIE fighters AND Rebel X-Wings on the map. This keeps the balance better, which is a huge plus.
On the downside, if you actually want to play primarily as a pilot or tank driver, the new Battlefront does not have you covered. There’s no practice mode (at least in the Beta) and you can never deliberately get a vehicle if you want one. In my first ten games I probably only flew two ships and drove one AT-ST, and my familiarity and skill with them were nil, so I couldn’t even enjoy them before being destroyed. You have to play hours of the game (mostly as infantry) if you want to start getting good in vehicles.
Battlefront 2 (and I think #1) did have the hero feature, but we haven’t seen it in the Battlefield series. In it, you would gain control of an overpowered hero or villain like a Jedi or Sith if you reached a certain kill streak or points goal. You then had a limited amount of time to control a hero character. The heroes given depended on the map and would fit the theme for that time setting in Star Wars history, so Darth Vader and Anakin Skywalker were never on the same map, but Luke and Vader were, or Anakin and Jango Fett were.
I’m not sure how careful Dice are being with that attention to detail. It’s a minor issue but fans have complained that on the Hoth level in the Beta, we see Luke from Return of the Jedi (so, a full Jedi with green lightsabre) fighting Vader, instead of a younger Luke in pilot or snow gear.
You also now get heroes the same way as vehicles, and they’re even more rare. I’ve played 7 hours and been a hero character twice, for about twenty seconds each time, and I still have no idea how to use their powers to good effect. Also, when they’re defeated, they just kneel down looking sad for a few seconds, then completely disappear in an instant. This is a very poor animation, as are many others on the heroes, and it seems that the game would be stronger without them at this point.
It was reported earlier that there was no aim-down-sights feature to the game. There is now. Possibly it was added due to the unpopularity of that announcement. All guns seem to have the same sight (a low-zoom scope, with the sniper rifle’s zoom also being very low). Crouching also gives no aim or stability bonus, as it does in Battlefield. Jumping or running while shooting doesn’t seem to hurt the aim that much either, so this game is quite dumbed down (/made more accessible) in that regard.
No Single Player
The Battlefield games have mostly had story campaigns, or at least single player campaign modes. The two Battlefront games also had some single player options. The new game just seems to have a Survival mode which is a wave fighting mode that you can play solo or in co-op against AI bots. This is big negative for me. You can keep playing multiplayer matches forever if you like, but I like a game, particularly a €60 one, to also give me something to enjoy on my own with some narrative or strategy. I would have loved to see the Galactic Conquest mode from Battlefront 2 in here. Instead I’m basically looking at paying €60 to kill and die in equal measure for as much time as I like. It’s not always what I’m after, and I have plenty of other multiplayer shooters to go to if that’s what I want.
There is one other single-co-op mode but it’s not in the Beta.
Spectacle & Polish
The Walker Assault level of the Beta, set during the Battle of Hoth from The Empire Strikes Back, is one of the best levels/experiences I’ve ever come across in a game. Dice have absolutely nailed the sounds and visuals! The clunking walkers, the punchy lasers, the snow crunching, the graphical fidelity, and then the level design itself all serve to craft one of the most immersive Star Wars experiences anyone has ever had. If you’re still reading and the Beta is still on, please just load up the game and run around the battle for a few minutes. This has to be experienced! I don’t know if I’d pay €60 for it, but for free, go for it!
The other two levels also look beautiful and all have interesting starship battles happening overhead as part of the scenery. The lengths they’ve gone to with immersion here are spectacular.
There’s none of Dice’s trademark ‘levolution’ going on here, at least not in the Beta. The levels are pretty rigidly set up. And AT-ST in the Survival mode blew through a few boulders near me and I was actually surprised. It looked great, but the fact that I was surprised by environmental destruction happening in a Dice game shows that there’s not much of it going on here. Don’t expect falling skyscrapers or crumbling buildings. There may be more environmental destruction in other levels, but I thought they’d have shown it off a bit more in the beta if it was much of a feature.
No Server Browser
The game doesn’t let you choose where to play. You can form a party with friends, but you can’t choose your server, and this will probably annoy PC players in particular. However, I have to mention that from my desktop, I can launch the Beta, find a full Walker Assault server, and be on the ground shooting in literally under 1 minute. If the full game can accomplish close to those times, I don’t care about not having a server browser, and players would be far more likely to hop in for a few quick rounds. Loading times were some of the biggest obstacles to me returning to the Battlefield games after a few weeks.
More ‘Rule of Fun’
They’ve tried to make more of a game for everyone here. Opinions will vary on whether this is good or bad but I actually found myself enjoying the game more for the presence of certain unrealistic features, and I’d normally be a fan of realism. For instance, there’s no friendly fire. Unrealistic? Sure. But it removes the ability for the inevitable assholes on your team to grief you too much. They also can’t steal your vehicles. I found myself less frustrated playing this than I have playing Battlefield games, which is a huge plus for me, even if the tactical considerations are lessened. A shooter with 40 people is not where I’ll go to get my tactical fix anyway, so for fun, this was a good move in my books.
They also put all your abilities on ‘star cards’ that you equip. You don’t automatically get grenades, but you can chose them as 1 of 3 possible power-ups. In here are also jetpacks, a one-round sniper rifle, other grenades, or a personal shield. You don’t carry grenade ammo, but instead they are on a simple cool-down before you can use another one. Your health also recharges fully moments after a firefight. This basically means that if you don’t die in a fight, you’ll have full health and ammo very shortly afterwards. This allows the game to keep flowing at a decent pace, I think. I’m in favour of it.
All the other games had a character class that you choose from with your primary abilities. In the new Battlefront you’re basically all the assault character, but you can choose a variation on your primary weapon, and then choose 3 star cards to give yourself some level of customisation. This also serves to keep more people in the battle though and not hiding on the edges fulfilling repair or sniper roles. This does make for a better battle experience, even if it alienates some players who have a favourite class. There’s no medics or engineers here, and while they are mines, they are only available as random pick-ups on the map. You can’t plan for them.
No Revives, Quick Respawn
If you die, you die. There’s no bleed-out time, defibrillators or medic classes. You do respawn very quickly though, without a 30 second timer. Again, this keeps the game flowing, removes frustration and also stops the game getting stuck in situations where medics keep reviving somebody from around a corner. You can also spawn on your partner (you get only one, no squads) to get into the action sooner. The levels are also well laid out and it never takes too long to find the action again.
No Map or Spotting
While you have a local radar to show objectives, team mates, and enemies who have fired recently, there is no larger level map. The Hoth map, and presumably others, are good at filtering you towards your goal, but early on I was confused as to where in the world I was at a given time. The ‘spot’ feature of recent Battlefield games is also not present. This is a simpler action game, and less of a strategic one.
Anyone familiar with Battle-x games will probably have realised that, while the core mechanic of shoot-the-enemy is still there, this game is quite different from its compatriots. For me, it’s pleasantly different, but not all will agree.
The Beta Itself
There are 3 modes you can play in the Beta.
This is the 40-person Hoth level, and very addictive. The rounds are quick enough, the spectacle is amazing, and I kept going back for more, despite saying several times that “this” would be the last round. If this is representative of the game at large, I think this game might really have some legs. However, it’s very same-y. Apart from maybe missing out on playing a hero or vehicle, you’ve seen 95% of the gameplay after playing a couple of rounds on each side. There won’t be much variety and there’s not a lot of room for improvisation. It did keep me coming back, though, so what does that say?.. It’s addictive, anyway.
The only thing was that the Imperials nearly always win. It’s extremely difficult for the Rebels to destroy the 2 walkers in time. They have to hold an uplink station a fair while to start a Y-Wing strike. If they can do that, the Y-Wings only make the AT-AT “vulnerable”, and only for about 10-15 seconds. This window is your only chance to chip away at their (considerable) health. Snowspeeders (often the only way in a Star Wars game to take down an AT-AT, by tying up the legs) can for some reason only attempt the tow-cable manoeuvre during this vulnerable time. This is both non-canon, and extremely unbalanced in its current form. In my 7 hours of play, I only once saw the Rebels win, and I never saw a Snowspeeder successfully kill a Walker, though this may change as players become more used to the game and if the walkers’ health is adjusted by the developers. The walkers I saw die all died to blaster fire and grenades.
I didn’t like this mode at all. Sixteen players fight with no vehicles in a volcanic, rocky map, over control of drop pods. It’s basically King of the Hill but each hill gets captured very quickly and then a new pod gets dropped. If you died at the pod, even with the instant respawn, I still never had time to run back and attempt to take it a second time before the timer was up. Also, on this map, the Empire team is at a clear disadvantage as their white armour makes them stick out like a sore thumb, while the rebels are harder to spot. The map is also very small with not much going on compared to Walker assault. I kept getting placed on teams that were outnumbered (like 8 vs 5 or 6) and there was no auto-balance. This inevitably meant that we lost every match 5-0 and it was no fun. Even if I was on the winning team, though, I wouldn’t think much of it.
The troubling thing is that if this is their 2nd-best multiplayer mode, then I don’t hold out much hope for the overall quality of the full game’s levels. Surely they’d only have put their better modes in the Beta?
Survival (Single or Co-op)
In the Beta, my friends weren’t online and you can only play co-op with friends, it appeared, so I had to play solo in ‘normal’ difficulty (only difficulty in the Beta). The Beta was limited to 6 waves, each increasing in difficulty. The final game will have ten I think. Even so, I didn’t die once, and to have another player making those waves even easier would be no fun at all, I think. The AI bots animate well but they die very quickly, don’t often stick together, and provide very little challenge unless you’re swarmed. Even the AT-STs aren’t that hard to beat as you can easily escape them with your jet pack, recharge your health and powerful attacks, and then come back around the canyon behind them to take off another chunk of their health.
The Full Game’s Other Modes
There would appear to be seven multiplayer modes available in the full game. I said that I don’t think much of Drop Zone, but that Walker Assault is great! I believe Hoth isn’t the only level for this mode, because there’s also an Endor one in the trailer. I’m not sure if there are any more beyond that. Presumably with EA’s (almost) entire marketing push being focussed on Walker Assault, the other modes aren’t up to the same standards.
Supremacy: I believe this is like Conquest from many games. Your mileage may vary.
Blast: Don’t know.
Cargo: Don’t know.
Droid Run: I don’t know what this is but presumably is some sort of glorified escort mission. Hooray… no, wait.
Fighter Squadron. We’ve had a trailer for this. This seems to be the only mode that will satisfy those who were looking for some good Star Wars spaceship warfare, and even then it’s not in space (admittedly, planet surfaces are more interesting to look at than endless stars), and it’s not like the Space Levels of Battlefront 2, which featured ship-to-ship boarding, flagships, and smaller escort ships to be destroyed. Without playing this mode, I can’t guess how much fun it will or won’t be, but it is at least different. See the trailer below.
Single player (slash, co-op) only has 3 offerings; the aforementioned Survival, a Training Mode, and Battles. Training obviously won’t have much longevity in it, but I don’t know what Battles are.
The Battlefront Beta is definitely worth playing. The Walker Assault mode is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a game, despite countless Star Wars games of the past having taken a shot at it.
The beta has some graphical glitches that may or may not be cleaned up by launch, but which aren’t deal breakers either.
The game is definitely its own monster. Managing to find a gameplay spot that stands apart from both Battlefield and the original Battlefront games gives this new release some validity. The graphical and audio quality push this even further. But the gameplay is now 90% focussed around close-range infantry combat, with vehicles and heroes only presented as rare bonuses to shake up your experience, rather than being legitimate roles.
The game is obviously timed to maximise sales by releasing only a few weeks before Christmas and the release of Episode 7 in cinemas. I do think that it will do well for all of these reasons, but does it deserve to?
From what I’ve seen of the Beta, the game only has one noteworthy mode, which I think has only two levels (Hoth and Endor). I’ve had my fill of Hoth in less than 7 hours of play, and Endor will probably not even keep me interested that long, having already experienced the mode broadly.
While there are six other multiplayer modes, and two single/co-op modes, none of them have been well advertised so I’m presuming that they’re not particularly worth mentioning. I feel like I’ve seen the best that the game has to offer already for free. And that much wasn’t worth €60 to me, personally.
I’ll definitely be waiting for reviews, and then probably sales, if I’m ever going to pick up this game. Still, though, it has its merits and I definitely think it’s worth a look. If you can get on the Beta tonight or if EA offer “Free Time” to play like they do with some other games, take advantage!
Here’s one I’ve been reluctant to do because it’s a topic I surely can’t win at as I risk exposing some hitherto undiscovered bigotry with every word. But sure, let’s give it a go. It concerns a conversation I had on the bus with a girl one night about two months ago. I thought of relating the conversation on the blog, then decided not to, but then a few days later I spotted the same girl again! This time I was on the bus and she was crossing the street so we didn’t meet. Regardless I decided that this total coincidence should be taken as a sign (it shouldn’t, but whatever) and I’d do this post. Since it happened a while back I’ll be paraphrasing a bit.
To start back at the start, I was on the 145 bus home from Dublin one night in August with Daniel Aherne from the Onikira team. We’d just come from dubLUDO, a meetup of Dublin game developers. We were chatting away on the bus and an Irish girl and a Filipino guy (yes, I did spell that correctly) got on and sat just behind us. The girl was quite chatty. She didn’t know the guy. She’d just sort of acquired him by talking at the bus stop and we were quickly added to the conversation. They’d come from a punk gig so we started talking music, then asked a little about the Philippines. Naturally enough she then asked where we’d come from. We said dubLUDO and in answer to her next question explained that, basically, “we make games”.
Her next question surprised me at the time, and I’ve thought about it a lot since.
“Oh, like misogynist games”?
That was her first response to us. I felt accused at first. So I then felt like I should be defensive. Of course I wasn’t personally under attack or being criticised, so reasoned discussion ensued. Dan and I explained in turn. My game (here) is very early on but is about spaceships and will have male and female characters. The player could be either, for all they know. In Onikira you slay demons as an ancient Japanese samurai, so you play a male, but you’ve a female mentor character too who teaches and guides the player character. Dan also explained that the last game he worked on had you playing as a priest in a Father Ted inspired kind of game.
She thought our games all sounded cool and we enquired what sort of view she had of games. She said she didn’t play any but she’d know about the big ones like Grand Theft Auto, Halo, and Tomb Raider.
So I’m totally inside of the gaming world and I see all sorts of games. Progressive games. Poignant games. Sexist games. Games where you can play as a man or woman and have gay or straight (or interspecies; hey, I’m not one to judge!) relationships. Then puzzle games, games where you’re a robot, a God, a male, a female, an animal, a demon, elf, angel, alien or spaceship. I see all sorts of great and crappy games getting made and I can point to dozens or hundreds of games in my own library that you couldn’t accuse of being misogynist, some that are being overtly and deliberately progressive, and yes, a few that you could definitely accuse of being disrespectful to women (and men’s intelligence at the same time, in certain cases). So personally, I’m not overly worried about misogyny in gaming long term because I think we’re definitely headed in the right direction. Of course, I’m a straight white male, so I’m liable to be just totally wrong there, but for every (let’s say ‘recent’) game you can show me that perpetuates the stereotype that games are misogynist toys for ignorant boys, I’ll show you a dozen that don’t, and some that directly oppose that notion.
The girl I spoke to on the bus, though (let’s pretend one person is representative of a larger group for a moment) is totally outside the gaming world. We asked her why she went straight to the words “misogynist games” when we mentioned our livelihoods. She pointed to examples like Grand Theft Auto and Halo, where she just sees male characters, men in armour, men with guns, then women in jeopardy or dancing in strip clubs, etc. She said she thinks women aren’t powerful in games “except for like, Tomb Raider, and even then Lara Croft’s just shown as a sex symbol”. Of course, the reboots have changed Lara Croft’s image, which she was happy to learn.
Grand Theft Auto, okay, is never going to win prizes for sensitivity. It’s deliberate though. They market their games on controversy. However, we did all find it odd that in a game where you have 3 lead characters (GTA V), not one of them was female. Surely there was room. We’ve two white guys and one black guy (at least it wasn’t 3 white guys) but no women. Maybe Rockstar deserve some criticism there. These were all new characters written from scratch. They could have been anybody so why not write in a female character? We know GTA has female players. At least you can play as a female in multiplayer.
With Halo, Master Chief was a male character first written into existence in the late 90s, when male leads were absolutely the norm as games were still seen as something consumed mostly by boys. Halo then became a huge franchise and Master Chief became a gaming mascot. They won’t write him out of that series, or retcon him to be female, and he’ll still feature prominently on all marketing material, but they do add female characters (and powerful ones) into the Halo universe to make up for this while retaining the valuable Halo brand’s lead character. Miranda Keyes was a powerful female support character in Halo 2 & 3, and the leader of the Spartan squad in Halo 4 was female. Similarly, Gears of War (after the first one) started adding playable female soldiers, even if we still mostly had to follow Marcus Phoenix as the game’s charismatic (jk) lead.
One big perceptual problem for games, as seen from the outside, I suppose, is that the big icons of gaming, the mascots, the characters that wind up in the windows of Game Stop on the high street, are almost all male. These mascots are seen by everybody as they’re used to sell the big games in the big shops, so people who aren’t playing more games still just see these male mascots and take away a certain perception of the games industry. Mario, Sonic, Master Chief, Agent 47 (Hitman), Batman; these are all mascots because their series have had the time to grow into global brands, but the characters were created when we were still thinking about games (and comics) audiences as almost entirely male. It takes many years (several successful games) to make an icon out of a mere lead character, so the ones we have currently are the ones that were created years ago to appeal to who we thought games consumers were at the time.
Thankfully, in recent years we’ve seen (a finally more sensible) Lara Croft, Amanda Ripley (Alien Isolation) and “femshep” (female option for Shepard from Mass Effect) in shop windows. Coming up to the release of Horizon Zero Dawn next year I expect to see Aloy (reportedly inspired by Ripley from Alien) there too. “Equal opportunities” in game shop windows is still archaic it seems, but I think it’s headed the right way. As I said, it can take a decade or more to create a real gaming mascot, and like it or not, brand familiarity sells! Therefore, it gets window space, and the general public may not see the changes as quickly as gamers will. Gone Home was never going to be in the window at Best Buy, but Horizon Zero Dawn probably will.
But games aren’t just about being male or female led story-based experiences. These types of games are possibly even outnumbered by ones where you play as a non-descript manager, commander, God, alien, robot, car, amorphous blob, or anything else (without even mentioning virtually every puzzle game). If all the games where the player had to play a certain gender suddenly disappeared, gaming would still be a wonderful and vibrant space. The Sims, Cities Skylines, Angry Birds, Forza, Civilization. All top gender-neutral games.
Back on the bus, we explained about the types of games we’d just seen under development in Ireland at dubLUDO. Guild of Dungeoneering was just out, where you control your male or female dungeon raiders. Owen Harris was creating Deep, a meditative VR experience. Floaty Ball (please click that link and vote for them on Greenlight) is a great 4-player party game where you just play as a floaty ball-thing! Hot-Shot Wreckers is a micro-machines-esque racing game. You play as a car. I didn’t recall even seeing a game that day that had a gender-specific player character. We also see more and more female students in the game colleges and in gaming jobs.
I hadn’t left dubLUDO worried about where the games industry was heading in years to come, let’s say that much. But the girl on the bus reminded me that we may have a long we to go before we shake the image we’ve earned in years gone by.
There’s still shining examples of embarrassing bullshit out there (ahem.. QUIET!!) but at the same time, every (male) reviewer that I saw review The Phantom Pain loved the game and gameplay and thought that Quiet was an embarrassment to an otherwise great game. These reviewers were all younger than Hideo Kojima (The Phantom Pain’s creator, who in fairness, has created some great female characters in the Metal Gear series). I mention this because I think the tide is flowing strongly in the other direction and institutionalised sexism is on the way out as younger generations come in. Almost half of all gamers are female. Bigger marketing-oriented games companies are realising this and moving away from marketing their games solely towards teenaged boys. More and more games let you choose your character’s gender or have shared male and female leads (most RPGs, The Last of Us, The Walking Dead). I’ve heard teenaged male youtubers playing the Phantom Pain and they are dumbfounded at the “reason” for Quiet’s almost-nudity in the game. So even the demographic that a character like Quiet was made to appeal to isn’t so stupid as to blindly accept a transparent made-up reason for dressing down a female character.
A few rapid-fire reflections:
If a game has only a male playable character, is it automatically misogynist, or harmful? No, I don’t think so, and I don’t think any sensible person should. That would set an unreasonably low bar for defining the “bad games” (for want of a better word that I feel is eluding me).
Do I think female gamers deserve more lead characters they can relate to? Yes.
Do I feel uncomfortable when a game forces me to play as a girl even though I’m a boy? No! Perfect Dark is possibly my favourite N64 game actually, making it one of my all time favourite games.
By that same token, should girls then be fine with playing as males? I don’t think a male lead stops many girls from playing a game they want to play, but the imbalance in offerings is ridiculous, and the world is missing out on some great perspectives.
But do we really need to actively address the imbalance of male to female leads? I think so. If most games featured female leads I’d want to see more male-led ones in the world, so, yes. The opposite should be true also.
(I looked through my Steam library earlier) Was I surprised at how few games allowed me to play as a female vs those where you played only as a male? Yes. Shocked actually. The ratio is astounding.
Is it enough to let the player decide their gender? Not ‘enough’, no. I think it’s great that many games have taken the route of giving you a name like “Alex” or “Jesse” and just creating male and female character models. Let the player decide. It works well in the cases I’ve seen it used in. There’s nothing wrong with it, but..
Should there be games written with just female leads, then? Of course! Letting the player decide their gender limits our stories to human issues only. There are great stories waiting to be told from the female perspective. Movies haven’t shied away from female leads, and games can be even more powerful for making the player/viewer feel empathy. We should definitely have more games with female leads and strong stories. I’ve never seen a game (not saying it doesn’t exist somewhere though) that addresses the issue of miscarrying a child, for example. How would an empathic male player feel after playing through something like that? I’d love to find out. I’m not a parent, but Walking Dead Season 1 made me feel more like a father than any other experience I’ve ever had. Games are powerful, man!
Does it bug me to see male characters in full protective armour standing next to female characters in (what would appear to be) less protective armour? Yes! Bugs the crap out of me!
Should there be more games like Gone Home? I don’t think it was a very engaging game, so not too like Gone Home, but seeing games explore more human issues is a good thing. The player character being female in that game doesn’t matter a whole lot to the story. It could have been an older brother character and still worked. The lead character is that game is arguably the absent sister.
Do I think it’s wrong to feature sexy characters in games to sell more copies? I don’t, personally. People like what they like; be it sleek cars, big guns, sexy women, dark men in smart suits, oily men in banana hammocks, colourful panoramic vistas, or the wonder of the solar system. All of these things appeal to human beings (some of them more than others based on gender/orientation) and I don’t see anything wrong (at a fundamental level) with acknowledging that and using it. Respect is key, as always, and I think that’s where the problems come in. But I think models, dancers and strippers should be allowed to use their bodies to earn a living. Why not? Who are we to tell them what they can’t do when they’re not hurting anybody? So why not let artists draw a computerised body to sell something else? It’s a huge topic, I know, but that would be my opening argument, I suppose.
Then, would I be interested in seeing a game like DOA Beach Volleyball but with an all-male cast instead of all-female? Yes, very interested! I hope it happens! Women like sexy men and men like sexy women, yet it’s nearly only sexy women used to sell products. I think that particular imbalance is silly, and agree that there’s some harm in it.
Does it bother me if I offend people? Yes. I don’t want to do that. I’d rather we all get along, I just know that’s not always possible. But please leave comments below if you want to educate me as to something. I’m receptive, not defensive.
Do I think some people are too sensitive? Definitely! Why else would someone yell back in response to a question (being ‘hangry’ is a common cause) or post murder and rape threats in response to an opinion? I was already accused of being sexist specifically for writing the Player Too series, where I simply document trying to get my girlfriend interested in playing games with me. Where the sexism is there will have to be pointed out to me. I didn’t get to speak to the accuser as they posted in a Facebook group, quickly flew off the handle, and got banned by the group’s admin. I never even saw it but was told the poster was a girl and she likely hadn’t had time to read the blog before she posted, as it was mere minutes after my own post with the blog link. Perhaps then, she saw the title or the first paragraph, took a wild guess as to the content of the blog, and went on the offensive. “TLDR. Must be evil. I should comment in case”. If that’s the case: Don’t be like that. Come on!
I was a bit surprised at the girl-on-the-bus’s statement, and even still am a bit after I considered her point of view. We’ve shown the games industry as a male-oriented and at times sexist domain in the past, but we’re making great progress too. The games industry is larger than the movie and music industries combined so why is our progress so invisible to non-gamers? It would be super-visible if we aggressively changed the genders of all our male mascots, but nobody is arguing for that. It shouldn’t happen. There’s nothing wrong with Mario, Sonic, or Master Chief themselves. They just don’t have enough female counterparts. It’s a sausage fest!
Sexism still exists in all walks of life and should be educated against, but it’s also diminishing (at least in my corner of the world). Accusations alienate and polarise. I think that true equality just takes time to fully arrive, and when it does it will still take time for everyone to accept that it has. Education and patience is the best way to get there.
What’s done is done. Mistakes have been made, but so have some great games and franchises. People will always disagree over what’s acceptable satire and what’s offensive. They’ll also disagree (for a long time at least) over what’s an acceptable use of the female (and male) body in commerce and entertainment. We’ll never all be on the same page, I don’t think, so accusations of misogyny and bigotry will probably always be levelled at somebody or another. Can we just acknowledge that we’re making progress in creating a more egalitarian industry, and agree to disagree (amicably) on the other stuff?
If everybody would feel less threatened, be more open to change, recognise that change is happening but takes time, would think before they speak, be more open to discussion and less quick to threaten then I think we could all make and play some great games together.
Further Reading: There’s a good, shorter article by somebody with a better planned-out approach to the subject here on Gamasutra.