How Video Games Tackle My Misanthropy

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The closest words I could find to describe myself in regards to this article was ‘misanthrope’ and ‘nihilistic’, and yet that’s still not entirely accurate. Technology has progressed to a level that can propagate genuine fear in the human psyche. Not the ‘50s sci-fi death robots or the ‘70s Bond movie machines-of-destruction fear, but the Phillip K. Dick-esque psychological fears. The warnings of a futuristic society broken by humanity, like those played out visually in Charlie Brooker’s inspired dark satire, Black Mirror. Which is why when I see the Microsoft Hololens that was announced a few weeks back, I can’t help but imagine then bad things that it could do. The kind of salacious things that someone like Paul Veerhoven would put in a movie as an aside like a virtual, holographic erotic dancer, being viewed by a Dad of three at breakfast – living the subterfuge of the happy families lie.

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It’s not that I don’t trust the technology, but I don’t trust the operator. Which is why you could call me a misanthrope. But my opinion is that the human species are survivors and work to create the best things under the pressures of extinction and unity. In an age where I can walk 300 yards and pick up a box of Strawberries in mid-January, I feel more removed from any kind of human condition than I suspect I ever would have in previous generations. Which is why there is an escapism that I practice in video games. The escapism of the open-world dystopian/fantasy role-playing game or the escapism of a destroyed earth that you must walk to survive. Heading from realm to realm regardless of if its fiction is magical or futuristic.

If I were to list my favourite games of all time I would be sure to add Skyrim, Red Dead Redemption and Halo to that mix. Halo has a futuristic science-fiction world that borrows from many of the genres greatest tropes and presents them in a way that, while militaristic and brimming with bravado, creates the impression that there is more out there. The impression that there is more history to uncover, more secrets to be known and things more important than just throwing our DNA out to every planet with an excess of oxygen. Red Dead Redemption places itself in a changing world that operates like a Cormac McCarthy book. Its turn of the century gentrification and modernisation of the Wild West puts in to perspective how the elements of human greed and corruption have created such fallout that to live a simple, rewarding life is no longer possible and to survive in the 20th Century, some elements of the past must be destroyed to forge that.

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It’s this kind of connection I make to these games that makes me invest in the character I’m playing. Not because of divine or fatalistic consequence but because a situation has made this person rediscover what it means to be a human in some way. With Skyrim the free nature of how you can create your own story, whether it is through emergent gameplay or in an intertextual way through the game’s fiction, completely places you in that world. It’s a world at war with political allegiances astray all over, the threat of large creatures destroying everything and ancient history restoring or upsetting the balance by placing you at the centre of it. The same can be said for the way that Fallout 3 operates within its own fictional world.

To bring this in to a more recent context, the same can also be said for the Dragon Age series and the latest title, Dragon Age Inquisition. Dragon Age allows you to create someone who is fatalistically placed in the centre of a predicament but the way you make choices in this world is a lot purer, if you will, than your modern day life or even many similar games. When you make choices to peruse a relationship with another character in the game, it isn’t because their dowry will be rather large or because moving in together will save a lot more money in rent. It’s because you’ve decided that particular person is someone you want to get to know, to invest in, to discover. Like love and the forging of relationships should be. When you make the decision of which members of your party should come with you, it’s because they bring the best chance of survival and the best talents to that situation.

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It’s much more meaningful and dramatic compared to working on a PowerPoint as a team which you end up having to cover 75% of anyway. This is why so many people have replayed all of these games. Especially Skyrim and Dragon Age. Because there is the submission to playing the role presented before you that allows you to rise above the day-to-day postmodern nihilism that we live in. It’s the same reason people read books or view masses of DVD box sets and Netflix series. It’s even the same reason that people follow, attend and submit themselves to sports and the vast arenas they are played in; to be part of something bigger.

This is obviously escapism but because I write about games and have a passion for them, much like people do for movies, music, and other hobbies (for lack of a better word), I feel I have a much larger investment intellectually in them. So that I can see what parallels they have to our current human condition, or more to the point how the evolution of that condition has robbed us of the simpler, more honest notions in life. This misanthropy may be borne out fear but in the current context of cyber crime, viral news cycles, click bait and the anti-humanistic oppression that interconnectivity can bring, it is video games I turn to in order to remind myself of what humanity truly can be at its best and sometimes its worst. I think that is something we all need, even if video games aren’t the way you get it. Books, drama, theatre, however you remind yourself, anything is equally valid as long as you take away something human from it.

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Dragon Age Inquisition interview with Neil Thompson

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Dragon Age Inquisition is the new offering from Bioware in the franchise that has very quickly become a fantasy icon in video gaming. Sean got to sit down at EGX with Bioware’s Director of art and animation, Neil Thompson, and have a few words about it.

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It’s a very interesting art style compared to other Dragon Age games, especially with the Frostbite 3 engine. How did that come about?

Well the interesting answer is the adoption of Frostbite. We did the previous two Dragon Age games on a Bioware engine called Eclipse and I think it’s safe to say it was starting to show its age. We wanted to take Dragon Age Inquisition on to the new hardware and new generation. What does that mean? Well a lush, diverse and complex experience and there’s no reason why that shouldn’t apply to us like everyone else. We’d already seen what Frostbite was capable of with Battlefield and we wanted a piece of that.

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How has that approached how you create the game? Before the previous Dragon Age’s single player experiences very much in the Bioware theme and the characters and now it’s multiplayer and more open.

Multiplayer is one aspect of the game but the single player and multiplayer are still two different things. The single player experience is still an immense priority for us. We wanted to extend that single player experience, larger worlds, and better combat. You don’t allow the paradigm of the hardware or the engine to dictate what we wanted to achieve with the franchise. We wanted push the pillars of Dragon Age with a more open world experience, a larger or more diverse world. That’s what we wanted to use for the game because we felt it would be a better experience for the player.

The advent of the new generation consoles has come along at the right time for you to embellish that as well?

We are on all five consoles with presents a challenge in itself. But the move to the next gen has made the older generation versions better because of it. We try to satisfy the needs of the players across all platforms. We don’t want the last generation console owners to get less of an experience than the other console owners.

The art style has changed, partly because of the Frostbite 3 engine and you’ve been able to put new features in to the game like the tactical view. Tell us a little bit about how that came about.

Well it’s the result, not really of Frostbite option, but between the team and the creative director that they wanted that RPG experience. Origins and many of our games have that dynamic and I think it really enhances the combat. You can play the game with the traditional third person way and its fine. But if the challenge becomes too much you can always pause and think about it more strategically and from a party perspective. Rather than just playing from the one view.

Where did the inspirations of that mode come from and for it to be as seamless as it is, because you can see comparisons to MOBA’s and Warcraft?

Well I think Bioware’s inspiration goes back further to Baldur’s Gate and those top down RPG’s.

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The game is the third in the franchise, so you’re fairly well established with Dragon Age and what you do. There’s a lot of other games as well coming around at the same time with competition like Lords of the Fallen, Shadows of Morder, Elder Scrolls Online. How will your game go in that kind of market as it is very different and unique compared to what is there?

It is and what I think is good and that is positive for the Fantasy space market is that it is possible to sustain multiple franchises. And it just encourages strength across the board. Fantasy has had something of a revival in recent years with Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones and stuff which is fantastic, a positive environment for fantasy and the games that inhabit it. So I think it’s great for everyone.

You say fantasy is having a bit of a revival, I’d say role-playing as well is having a renaissance. Dungeon’s and Dragons is back again with new rules, simplified. There’s a lot more indie gaming that’s using the mechanics. How do you keep things accessible when there’s a lot of other options and different things about?

It is challenging. I think you can’t be stuck in the position where you’re trying to please everybody. You end up diluting the experience so what we’ve tried to do is allow you to play Dragon Age the way you want to play it. If you want to get more in depth and in to the tactical side of things then you can absolutely do that. But if you are a more casual player and if you want to go through the narrative without getting as deep in to the ability trees then you can. What we’d like to see, if you are a more casual player, is that you get introduced to it and you just dip your toe in the more complex systems and if they enjoy it then they do.

With art & design, you’ve probably seen enough concept sketches to keep DeviantArt running for years to come. What kind of artistic inspiration do you take, how do you get that world created?

We try to go as broad as possible. We’re keen to have a broad palette for our artists, not just from the genre of games but from film, TV, architecture, fine art, contemporary art, sculpture, writing. You name it people are passionate about it and it provides the spark of creativity then it’s a wonderful thing. So we look very broadly with our inspirations.

There’s a lot of things that come from the games characters, how much of the classic Bioware character driven style is still in the game, given all the changes? 

It’s still incredibly core to the experience. You start with the narrative perspective, get the story outline, introduce the characters. Their personalities are explored and evolve right from the concept artist even before the 3D side of things. It is still absolutely part of it. Dragon Age Inquisition is a game about a vast and threatening diverse world and the people in that all have needs and desires and that’s key to the experience.

DAIINT4I suppose it might be a new thing for a Dragon Age game where you’re going in to an online world where the key is community. Destiny has shown already how many people, even on consoles, will form groups, discuss the game, play the game, etc. How do you see Dragon Age being received by the community like that, as the genre leans very heavily towards that kind of community?

I think Dragon Age and Bioware itself already has a very vibrant community. There’s no shortage of passion for the franchise. I hope Dragon Age will get people more involved and more emotionally interested in these characters and drive further conversation and further collaboration between fans and Bioware.

So what’s been your favourite thing so far in developing the game and what have we got to look forward to?

It’s hard to say, there’ve been so many things. It’s been a challenging development. Anything like this is difficult to achieve. I look at the final game now and I see how the design and the art has gelled in to the experience and I feel very satisfied and I and the rest of the team are very proud of it. We’re always working on new ideas and Dragon Age has always got more stories to tell. So there’s a lot more to come.

How about getting the Xbox One version up to spec with the PS4?

Game development is challenging, it’s always difficult. I think the key is trying to give the same level of satisfaction and experience across all the platforms so we hope to achieve that.

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Dragon Age Inquisition is due out on November 21st on Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4 and PC.

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EA Report – GamesCom 2014

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Back in to the big belly of the noisy beast that is GamesCom, we got a chance to see the EA briefing. And, if we’re honest, we were expecting bigger, right?

To start with, we were given some gameplay footage of Dragon Age: Inquisition (not the last offering from Bioware yet). It certainly looks good and the tactical view element of the game takes it out of the standard RPG gameplay a bit, almost in to turn based strategy. The idea is that you go around and kill things in order to build your army to save the world and if you kill those big things, smaller things will join you as you just made them redundant to their now deceased employer. The thing is, even with the Tom Hiddleston-sounding hero (I have no idea if it is him but it definitely sounded like him or at least channeled his Loki), it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot on offer that hasn’t already been offered by the series. Apart from the hours. The game looks set to be a big one with lots of dialogue and a story that at their last play through took 150 hours. Speed runners everywhere are going to enjoy nailing that down. Hopefully there is enough with the next generation platform and the story to really make the game different from its previous franchise siblings.

fifa15HOCKEY! Strangely NHL and FIFA were the only sports games on display, but NHL looks very, very good. It’s been good for a while but the next generation in consoles is allowing for a lot deeper resolution and authenticity in the arenas, much better physics for both the players and the pucks, fighting, and on screen presentation. Covered by American network NBC, we have two actual commentators giving to-camera links for the game, as in real life. But these aren’t computer generated guys, no they’ve superimposed these people from high def video recordings made for the game, which is looking so good now that it is apparently seamless integration. FIFA World had a game engine update and the biggest news to come out of FIFA 15 is that the goalkeepers have had an overhaul. New animations by World Cup hero Tim Howard and new AI should help the games get that little bit more juicy in the goal mouth… I’m never saying that again. The annoying thing is that America gets the game before the EU. Sorry Americans, I know you like it but it isn’t your sport as much as it is here and I don’t see why you have to get it early.

THE SIMS 4! Complete with Death coming to take dead people away. Death who looks like he came dressed from an Assassins Creed cosplay. Of course the game looks great and we were treated to a very long partially ad-libbed demo (Angela Merkel selfie anyone?) but it is The Sims. We know exactly what we’re getting. Cool social mechanics for the characters and the building options now can drag and drop whole rooms which is cool. Lots of fun customisation tools and no doubt a ream of DLC to last for the next five years. Fun, but lets move along please.

If 2013 was the year of too many Candy Crush-a likes then 2014 will be known for the abundance of MOBA. Dawngate is the new offering for the top down tactical destruction category that is taking the internet and competitive gaming by storm. I’d argue with how many we have that are also free to play, and now with Smite coming to console, if we really need this. I certainly saw a lot of people playing it after so maybe it will have more legs than I’m giving it right now.

Bioware not only gave us Dragon Age, but some new expanded content for Star Wars: The Old Republic (is the community still that jazzed for it after 4 years?) and finally their new IP. Console owners, go home. It’s PC time with Shadow Realms, a title seemingly made up of cool sounding Dungeons and Dragons areas. The comparisons don’t stop there as the game is a modern fantasy MMORPG where it’s four players verses one player as the bad guy. Think D&D (Think Evolve?). It looks like it could be cool and will be going in to a closed beta next month so sign up now.

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After the disappointment of Battlefield Hardline post-E3, this reveal could not be more different. In fact it is worlds apart from the beta we all played both in style and visuals. I heard a lot of Far Cry comparisons and the game is certainly trying to take itself away from the CoD competing big open battlefield stuff that it is used to. Very much walking down tight corridor stuff at times to be precise. But it looked very good and the focus on non-lethal adds a new dimension to the game. You can see its inspiration from modern television in the setting (big desert like Breaking Bad-esque areas) and the story whilst a bit hammy certainly goes in with the rebirth of the action hero. Lots to get excited about for next year and another beta will happen.

Do you have any thoughts on EA’s showcase at GamesCom 2014? Why not leave a comment on Facebook or tweet us @thegamejar and let us know.

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