Sun, Sep 11, 2011 | 01:50 BST
The Weekly Wrap – Dead Island’s disastrous launch, US sales fall again
Convention season has taken its toll. With TGS looming, we’ve lost Pat. He is, as you all know, dead. Or without Internet. We, however, must soldier on. Here’s the week’s biggest stories and what they all mean.
What happened: Oh boy, where to start? If you had an unusually nice time these past seven days, it’s because Dead Island was actually acting as a lightning rod for all the negative and unfortunate things in the universe. First, the first-person zombie hackstravaganza nearly stalled at the starting line, accidentally releasing developer code on Steam instead of the finished product. One patch later, though, everything was fine, right? Only a few deaths by stress-induced heart attack. No big deal. And then: “Feminist Whore.” Sure, it was buried under a mountain of unfinished code, but the gaming industry’s quite good at making mountains out of molehills. And bigger mountains out of those mountains.
What it means: As horrifically distasteful as that skill name is, I’m not of the opinion that it in itself is a big deal. It’s placeholder text that – in all likelihood – came from one coder. You can’t judge the work of an entire team based on the actions of one idiot. Now, the discussion the whole incident sparked? That’s another story.
Yes, the gaming industry seems to constantly think it’s one thump away from knocking sexism flat, but it always springs right back up – ready for another round. As our own editor-in-chief of correctness and rightitude Brenna Hillier pointed out, sexism’s pungent aroma wafts through every corridor of this industry. And certainly, that’s an issue – but it’s not the only issue.
Most interesting – at least, to me – is the direction the resulting discussion took almost immediately. Boobs. Butts. Etc. Physical features. Detractors rallied around the fact that male characters frequently sport chiseled jawlines and biceps that gleam so brightly they make the sun go blind. Without a doubt, the industry – entertainment industries in general, really – sex up characters. Fact is, exaggeration catches people’s attention. If something’s physically appealing, it forces the primal wolf creature inside all of us to stand up and take notice. So we leverage that. While the gaming industry’s more guilty of relying solely on physical attributes where female characters are concerned, it’s hardly a one-way street.
But, to me, that’s not really what the phrase “Feminist Whore” evokes at all. I mean, that’s not sexy. It’s downright disdainful. It’s not sexism; it’s bile-soaked hate-fueled misogyny. That, I think, is the larger problem here. In many dark corners of the gaming industry, there’s a latent – almost reflexive – rage toward women. It’s not rational, and it’s certainly not fair.
It is, however, extremely damaging – not to mention a very stubborn cork on a bottle bursting with potential creativity. I know one female writer who purposefully avoids adding bylines to her articles not because she doesn’t want credit, but because the second her readers see a female name attached to a videogame article, they attack it like frenzied goddamn sharks.
So you can write off the issue of hypersexualization all you want – honestly, it’s probably not going anywhere – but outright hating women? There’s no justification for that. It’s fucking despicable.
What happened: NPD dropped its monthly report, which – these days – I imagine to be delivered by a pale, hooded man flanked by a procession of crying orphans. Crying orphans with diseases. Sales fell again – 23 percent this time. The sky, however, didn’t come down with them.
What it means: Again, not too terribly much. You know the drill: gaming industry blah blah blah transition blah blah blah online blah blah blah iPhone gaming. On top of that, August is generally a slow month, and – without Madden there to offer a sportsmanlike ass-slap to the industry’s collective backside – the summer drought turned downright glacial.
Of some interest: 3DS sales shot up after the beleaguered platform’s price plummeted. Hopefully – at least, for Nintendo’s sake – Mario 3DS and Mario Kart can keep that momentum going. And honestly, my heart would shatter if Shigeru Miyamoto’s infectious grin melted into a frown. It’s some divine entity’s gift to facekind. We simply can’t let it down.
What happened: Speaking of that last thing, this really doesn’t bode well. Nintendo confirmed the existence of a 3DS analog stick peripheral that could only be described as an affront. An affront to what, you ask? Everything. At the front of the line, though, is common sense – whose calls Nintendo hasn’t returned in ages.
What it means: For better or worse, Nintendo’s gone against the grain since the dawn of time. With the 3DS, though, it’s been marching further and further from the beat of its own drum – often to its own detriment. First, it hopped on board with the 3D trend in general, then it put the two-screened, three-dimensioned handheld’s price into freefall shortly after PSVita trotted out a $250 price tag of its own. And now, it’s tossing in an extra analog stick – though admittedly, Nintendo’s been incredibly vague about whether or not this is a Monster Hunter-only thing. Regardless, if another stick isn’t included in the 3DS’ inevitable hardware revision/upgrade/sidegrade, I’ll eat a hat factory and personally send condolences to the families of all I’ve devoured.
Point is, it’s all been uncharacteristically reactive on Nintendo’s part. Sadly, in the tech world, if you’re not leading, odds are you’re following your way right off a cliff. This goes double in the current gaming climate, where mind-bogglingly rapid change rules the day. At this point, Nintendo simply seems out of touch, especially when you consider that the 3DS’ game lineup – still its greatest Achilles’ heel – continues to look like a couple blades of grass peeking out from beneath miles of scorched earth. Sorry, folks: Ports of multiple-generations-old classics and a couple not-surprise appearances by Mario aren’t going to cut it. Not this time. Oh, wait, Imagine Babyz is coming out in October. Nevermind, then. We’re saved.
What happened: “Is this the end of Dragon Quest?” asked nobody after Dragon Quest IX sold more units than there are inconveniently placed hairs in all the world’s drinking glasses. Unsurprisingly, Square Enix took the wraps off Dragon Quest X. What made quite a few people double-take, however, is what was underneath.
What it means: Say what you will about Dragon Quest’s core gameplay sticking to the most basic of fundamentals, but recent years have seen Square Enix take some pretty huge risks with its Japanese flagship. Dragon Quest IX was the first main series entry to go exclusively handheld and hand the spotlight over to multiplayer. DQX, though, makes that look tame by comparison. Foremost, it requires a constant Internet connection and further “usage fees” beyond your initial chunk of change. In other words, it’s an MMO – but, you know, only on Nintendo platforms. If I can’t unlock a flying pig mount, I’ll be sorely disappointed.
This comes as an especially King Slime-sized surprise given that the taste of Final Fantasy XIV’s faceplant is still so fresh in Square Enix’s mouth. But if there’s any way to force Japanese players to embrace, well, anything, it’s Dragon Quest, so perhaps crazy old uncle Square hasn’t lost it just yet.
What happened: The Kid remembered DLC from back in the days before the Calamity. Simpler times, those were. Probably better, too. And now all that remained was this memento, caked in ash. Then he hit it with his giant goddamn hammer.
What it means: OK, so I really hate it when interviewers ask developers “Is your game going to have DLC?” I don’t mean to rain on your Captain Obvious parade, but fucking duh. Everyone does DLC these days. “Will your game have graphics?” is an appropriate follow-up. And that’s precisely why it’s newsworthy when a game doesn’t – especially for all the right reasons.
For instance, I love Deus Ex with all my heart and a bunch of other vastly more confusing organs, but its upcoming DLC is basically content that got hacked off the original game to be sown back on at a later date. That’s terrible. Bastion – love it to death or wish death upon everyone who’s overhyped it – at least gave players everything up front. That’s absolutely the right mindset to have, and I’d really like to see more developers come back around to Supergiant’s way of thinking.