E3 2018: My thoughts on the future of gaming

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E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo, just wrapped up its 2018 event. Each year, the biggest companies in the gaming industry show up to display their titles and feature their upcoming AAA games. The collection of games that we saw from Sony, Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft, Square Enix, Bethesda, and Nintendo were all quite impressive, and there’s a lot to talk about in regards to what these games represent for the future of the industry. I won’t be going over every single game from each conference since that would be too much to cover, so I’ll just be talking about each company’s major games and announcements in order of when each conference premiered.

 

Electronic Arts

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EA’s conference was pretty straightforward. They mainly just promoted their two major sports titles with Madden NFL 19 and FIFA 19, along with Battlefield V and their new IP, Anthem. As a massive football fan, I enjoy the Madden games, but mainly because I enjoy football and there are no other current football titles available. This is because EA has a monopoly on all NFL and NFLPA-licensed games. This means that if you want to play a football video game, you have nowhere else to go but Madden. FIFA is also pretty starved of competition outside of Pro Evolution Soccer. Essentially, EA really doesn’t have to change much in their sports games because sports fans will buy the games no matter what. It’s unfortunate since that means EA can include in-game microtransactions like Ultimate Team packs that fans will be coerced into buying. It’s one of the many reasons that I am not a fan of EA. Their latest title, Anthem, looks like it might be something new, but at the same time, it seems like it could be a forced Destiny rip-off. The visuals are impressive, the flying mechanics seem fun, and the world looks overall interesting. However, the shooting mechanics don’t look as impressive and there seems to be a lot of clichéd dialogue that might make this new game a hollow but fun experience. It doesn’t appear to be something revolutionary in gaming, both story-wise and gameplay-wise. I only saw a few minutes of Battlefield V gameplay but it looks pretty similar to Battlefield 1, the previous installment. I did enjoy Battlefield 1 so I anticipate that I’ll probably get the same experience from this sequel. Overall, EA had the most generic and safe presentation, with nothing new. On top of that, they spent a lot of time talking about Command and Conquer: Rivals, a mobile game that, trust me, nobody cared about except EA for its money-making potential. It’s clear that EA is not where gamers go to get rich, memorable experiences and interact in creatively-driven communities.

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Both Madden and FIFA are the dominant sports games on consoles. 

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Microsoft

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The Microsoft presentation was a big step-up from EA. As promised, this industry giant showcased 50 games, including “18 console launch exclusives and 15 world premieres”. The show started off by revealing the announcement trailer for the new Halo: Infinite, a sequel to Halo 5: Guardians and a supposed return to form for the franchise that has defined Xbox in the past. I’ll go more into why I love this trailer and why I love Halo in general at another time, but to sum it up…it was beautiful. The trailer was a showcase of the new Slipstream engine that 343 Industries is working on, and I’ll go into why that’s important later. The point is that Microsoft started their show with a bang and didn’t let up. We saw trailers for Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (From the developers of Dark Souls), Fallout 76, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Cyberpunk 2077, Just Cause 4, new Cuphead DLC, and even Devil May Cry 5. Though there were mostly a slew of trailers with little gameplay, and though most of the games weren’t exclusives, I still appreciate that Microsoft was able to show so much content for upcoming games. It felt like a true showcase of the many games that will be releasing in the future, and to that end, it did do its job in getting me excited. I was particularly interested in seeing footage for Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, and Devil May Cry 5, both of which also featured gameplay footage and cutscenes using the in-game engines. As a massive fan of the Souls series, I can’t wait to see what kind of excellent combat and difficult bosses that Sekiro will deliver in its feudal Japanese setting; and as a massive fan of the Devil May Cry franchise before its polarizing reboot, I’m excited to see the franchise get back on track. Microsoft has been struggling as of late to catch up with Sony and its PS4, but I think it delivered enough in terms of game showcase and also the option of the Xbox Game Pass to at least keep Xbox somewhat in the console race.

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Microsoft showcased many world premieres for big titles like Devil May Cry 5 and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Bethesda

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Bethesda was by far the best conference at E3, both in terms of games and presentation. It’s hard to believe that one publisher has had so many excellent games with consistently good quality. The conference had already started strong by showing gameplay for the intriguing Rage 2, followed by highlighting the new Elder Scrolls: Online expansion. Things got amped up to a whole new level when the company revealed sequels to its two most recent first-person shooter hits, Wolfenstein and Doom, with the new Doom: Eternal featuring a Hell-on-Earth demon invasion and with the new Wolfenstein: Youngblood focusing on the twin daughters of Wolfenstein protagonist William Blazkowicz in the 1980’s alternate history of the Fourth Reich. I want to mention that the majority of presenters at E3 are lead developers for the game, but unfortunately while their passion for the game is apparent, their presentation skills are not very strong. That’s where Todd Howard came in for Bethesda. As the director and executive producer of Bethesda, Howard was able to excite the crowd and properly present some of Bethesda’s most exciting titles, including Fallout 76. Another brilliant move by Bethesda came in the form of a fake commercial with Keagan Michael Key satirizing Skyrim and its multiple releases. To put the cherry on top, Howard presented two small teasers for Bethesda’s secretive new IP, Starfield, and the now confirmed The Elder Scrolls VI. Fallout 76 looks like it could be a fun multiplayer experience to play with friends, and I’m so looking forward to the heavy metal awesomeness that is Doom: Eternal. What Bethesda was able to do hat set it apart is a clear display of attention towards what the fans wanted, and a proper presentation of all of their titles. It was clear from what they presented that Bethesda has multiple quality gaming franchises that will hopefully continue to thrive under their wing.Image result for Doom Eternal

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Bethesda showed a wealth of new games, cementing their position as one of the best developers in the industry. 

Ubisoft and Square Enix

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I’ll be honest, I didn’t see either of these conferences and from what I heard they didn’t compare to the other big conferences. Square Enix has some good games coming out with Just Cause 4, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and Kingdom Hearts III. It’s also nice that they are importing their critically acclaimed game Neir: Automata to the Xbox One. Captain Spirit also seems like a really unique and imaginative game that could connect with the inner child of may gamers. That being said, there wasn’t too much shown in terms of gameplay, which I would have liked to have seen more of, especially with Just Cause 4. As for Ubisoft, Assassins Creed: Odyssey and Beyond Good and Evil 2 were the only games that caught my attention, and even then I’m not as excited about them as I am for other games. Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 was showcased but the first Division game was such a letdown and I didn’t see enough exciting here to swing my opinion.  Overall, these two conferences were somewhat filler for the bigger conferences and not enough was shown in my opinion to warrant any worthy discussion.

 

Sony

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As a brand new owner of a PlayStation console for the first time ever, I was greatly anticipating what Sony would do. Microsoft had already set the bar high so I assumed Sony would have something big in store. What I got was somewhat disappointing. The presentation started with a musical performance that went on way too long. Don’t get me wrong, as a musician, I am always up for giving my undivided attention to a musical performance, and I very much appreciated the skill and beauty of the performances. I just don’t think it was the right move for Sony to start off their show and have so many fans eager for content forced to view a ten-minute instrumental performance. This happened twice, once before showcasing The Last of Us Part II, and once before Ghosts of Tsushima. Luckily, the games themselves showed solid gameplay and, again, all game engine cutscenes. This includes the two aforementioned games as well as the new Spider-Man game and the weird but interesting Death Stranding. I’m mentioning this because only a couple years back, games preferred to have cinematic cutscenes with graphics separate from the actual in-game visuals. Now it seems that more and more games are abandoning this all together and choosing to represent their visuals entirely through the game’s engine, meaning the gameplay and cutscenes are indistinguishable. I don’t think we are there yet, but as technology continues to improve, we may see games that look so realistic in their in-game engine that they are hard to tell apart from reality. Like I said we aren’t there yet, but it may be coming sooner than we think. Despite a rocky presentation and little games, what was shown was excellent, with quality gameplay and impressive graphics from the four main titles of The Last of Us Part II, Ghosts of Tsushima, Death Stranding, and Spider-Man

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Sony’s game showcase was surprisingly sparse but focus on four core exclusives, The Last of Us Part II, Death Stranding, Ghosts of Tsushima, and Spider-Man kept gamers’ interests up.

 

Nintendo

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The big highlight here, though Nintendo did show other games, was Super Smash Bros Ultimate, a sequel to the other Smash games but with the promise to feature every single playable character that has ever made an appearance in any of the previous Smash games. It’s an exciting prospect and overall I’d say that Nintendo has improved their situation with the good sales of the Switch and quality games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and soon this.

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Super Smash Bros. Ultimate looks to deliver the most exciting brawling experience featuring all Nintendo characters to have previously been in Smash games

Overall Thoughts

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This year’s E3 was pretty exciting, and though I didn’t get to see everything I thought I would (new Mortal Kombat, new Superman game, etc.), there were still plenty of exciting games to look forward to. Bethesda came away on top with Microsoft and Sony following closely behind. Some of what I saw from the in-game graphics of these games was simply incredible. Death Stranding, Halo: Infinite, and Ghosts of Tsushima all featured breath-taking in-game visuals and inspiring music that were actually more appealing than what I’ve seen in the world of cinema. I games continue to focus on art, storytelling, and community engagement, they will replace cinema as the perfect amalgamation of other artistic mediums.

BioShock and the Objectivist Society

rkjei4sajo7xIs a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow? This is the opening question first pondered by an audio of Andrew Ryan in the 2007 video game, Bioshock. Bioshock was a first-person shooter survival horror game that upon release, received critical acclaim for its brilliant storyline and chilling environment. In fact, Bioshock is the prime example that many would use to argue the effectiveness of video games as an art form. So just what is it that makes the game’s story so compelling? What themes embedded within its narrative make it stand out from the cavalcade of games purporting some form of complexity on an artistic level? For me, it all ties to the opening question; Is someone not entitled to the sweat of their brow? Often times, a work of art is defined by its ability to either present a new philosophy or challenge a previously upheld philosophy. In the case of Bioshock, it challenged the previously upheld philosophy of objectivism, an idea created by the 20th-century Russian author and philosopher, Ayn Rand.

Rand suggested a lifestyle based on absolute self-interest and reason over belief. She emphasized the individual over the collective and argued that society has been furthered by industrialists and captains of industry pursuing their own selfish goals. Rand also asserted that reason eliminates the existence of the supernatural and the divine. When it comes to reality, what you see is what you get. The world we see in Bioshock closely resembles Rand’s ideals. Rapture, the underwater city created by industrialist Andrew Ryan, was made to be a safe haven for all artists, scientists, and intellectuals. As Ryan describes it, “a city where the artist would not fear the censor, where the scientist would not be bound by petty morality, where the great would not be constrained by the small!”. In the beginning of the game, a banner hangs above a statue of Andrew Ryan with the words “No Gods or Kings, Only Man”. In essence, Rapture creates an environment of self-interested capitalists aiming to place their own ambitions over any moral code or obligation towards anything else. Things like empathy and altruism are entirely discouraged in Randian society as well as in Rapture. In fact, altruism is the antithesis of objectivism. Doing something for others is exactly what Ayn Rand doesn’t want. This is reflected in the game where Ryan can be heard saying

“What is the greatest lie ever created? What is the most vicious obscenity ever perpetrated on mankind? Slavery? The Holocaust? No. It’s the tool with which all that wickedness is built: altruism. Whenever anyone wants others to do their work, they call upon their altruism. Never mind your own needs, they say, think of the needs of…of whoever. The state. The poor. Of the army, of the king, of God! The list goes on and on. How many catastrophes were launched with the words “think of yourself”? It’s the “king and country” crowd who light the torch of destruction. It is this great inversion, this ancient lie, which has chained humanity to an endless cycle of guilt and failure.”

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Ryan highlights the essence of human atrocities occurring in the name of something or someone else. The Holocaust was in the name of the Nazi party, the Hundred Years War was in the name of “king and country”, the Crusades were in the name of God. Ryan’s counterproposal to altruism is that a society founded on only self-interested individuals is one without major conflict. However, this proposal inevitably led to Rapture’s ruin for a number of different reasons. The first reason was the rise in class distinction between the lower class of the city and the wealthy. Due to the fact that many people who migrated to the city were intellectuals and industrialists similar to Ryan, there was a dearth of blue-collar labor and maintenance jobs that were required to keep the city running. As a result of this, the infrastructure of the city crumbled and the lower class grew dissatisfied with Ryan. A mysterious character named Atlas was then able to coerce the lower class into taking up arms against Ryan. In response, Ryan created an army of “Splicers” addicted to “plasmids” that altered genetic coding. The substance from which plasmids were made was called ADAM. This is the second reason for Rapture’s downfall. ADAM soon became highly addictive to the residents of Rapture, and because Ryan was insistent upon a deregulated economy, ADAM was able to flow freely into the city. Ryan’s exact words were: “There has been tremendous pressure to regulate this plasmid. There have been side effects: blindness, insanity, death. But what use is our ideology if it is not tested? The market does not respond like an infant, shrieking at the first sign of displeasure. The market is patient, and we must be too”. This not only introduces the idea of laisse-faire economics, but also the philosophies of classical economists who believed that the economy was self-adjusting and would not need excessive government interference. The lack of oversight made it easy for the crazed and drug-addicted citizens of Rapture to abandon the purchase of ADAM altogether and begin killing each other over possession of ADAM. Since Ryan had no government in place to keep tabs, people could do whatever they wanted, creating a fully-fledged anarchic society.

The question still remains whether Rapture was unsuccessful because Ryan followed an objectivist approach, or because Ryan’s approach was an abuse of Rand’s philosophy. The government was still a component of Rand’s vision of a functioning society, however, it existed only to ensure that the basic human rights of its citizens were met and to protect its citizens through a police force. With the exception of the security bots within the city, Ryan altogether ignored the function of government as a protector entirely. So was Ryan simply and slowly being reduced to an insane lunatic obsessed with the ideology rather than the practicality of objectivism? Looking at Ryan’s final appearance in the game before (SPOILERS!) his death, he reveals to the player that they were being controlled the entire time by Atlas. The player’s every action in the game was dictated by Atlas using the trigger word, “would you kindly?”.  The revelation indicates that none of the player’s choices were their own. Ryan then utters the phrase, “a man choses, a slave obeys”. Ryan then commands the player to kill him as he continuously repeats the phrase. From this interaction, we see the nature of Ryan’s dependence on objectivism. His belief in individuality and the free choices of humans hold to him to the point that every warning sign of Rapture’s crumbling infrastructure is unable to sway him from a strict interpretation of Rand’s philosophy. He sees the city as it is, a dystopian horror, but accepts it as the free world embodiment of his ideology. No matter the result of the society, Ryan was determined to hold true to his ideology.

This can be interpreted as Bioshock admonishing overdependence on the ideologies of objectivism rather than adapting its philosophy to a real-world approach. The necessity of individual work given merit is a valid assertion, however, over-reliance on objectivism as a philosophy could potentially tip the balance between individual and government, and would instead instill a dystopic society where the wealthy rule everything while leaving the masses to suffer. That imbalance between rich and poor would create a class upheaval, which would then lead to a toppling of the pre-established system and would plunge the society into chaos.

 

First Blog Post

Hey everyone. This will be my first entry in what is hopefully a series of perspectives on stories told through different forms of media. I would like to offer my analysis on various novels, films, television shows, video games, graphic novels, and any other medium of storytelling. All art is subjective, and therefore it’s up to the viewer to decide what to make of what they see; I’m just here to offer my take while also giving insight into certain unique or overlooked philosophies in many works. Did you know that Toy Story can also be seen as an allegory for science versus religion, or that The Dark Knight’s differing ideologies between Batman and the Joker call back to a nineteenth-century poem by Fyodor Dostoyevsky called “The Grand Inquisitor”? These specific queries will be explored along with more general questions such as “what is a good movie?” and “what is a bad movie?”. I look forward to getting started. Let’s see if anyone reads these posts.