Is Mario The Great Unsung Fat Acceptance Icon?

Mario’s been with us for 31 years now and during that time he has remained relatively unchanged as a character. This has been fairly easy to accomplish since, as great franchise-driving characters go, he really doesn’t have any personality whatsoever. Despite this, he has remained one of the most iconic corporate icons in the world, largely due to his starring roles in several medium-defining games but also thanks to his peculiar design.

The design choices that went into creating Mario were all largely due to necessity and technical convenience rather than a specific choice or artistic vision. Famously he received a hat since hair was hard to draw, he became a plumber because dungarees made his arms easier to animate and he received a moustache so they didn’t have to bother giving him a mouth.

The same goes for his sizeable belly. As explained by Shigeru Miyamoto himself:

“The reason Mario is a plump shape is because gaming devices at that time could only read collisions between square boxes, not because I wanted to make him cute. His design turned out like that because I adjusted for the capabilities of the gaming device of the day.”

In short; Mario was made fat because it made it easier to program collision detection on the old machines they were working with. For all the vision Miyamoto had when he designed the Mario games, very little of that extended to the art design, so it’s particularly impressive when you consider the longevity that the characters have had since then. Even three decades later Mario remains one of the most recognisable faces of the industry and one of the most well-known mascots in the world.

And he’s definitely fat. And so is his brother.

Could it be that Shigeru Miyamoto accidentally create one of the most under-appreciated fat acceptance icons when he made Mario? Mario’s design has changed very little during the course of the franchise, remaining just as chubby now as he was in the series’ beginning. This is in stark contrast to many other iconic mascots that have been forced to trim down considerably over the years.

Bibendum, a.k.a The Michelin Man went from this:

to this:

While Sonic The Hedgehog, Mario’s long time rival, started out looking like this:

before getting his extreme makeover:

Mario, however, has been allowed to keep his chub intact throughout. Clearly it is perfectly possible to reinvent a stylised corporate mascot and in the process make them appear more svelte without losing that character’s commercial appeal. Nintendo have not (yet) chosen to put Mario under the knife which is a positive sign in its own right but is this due to a current of body positive sentiments within the Nintendo corridors?

First of all, it is worth to note that Mario is never portrayed in any of the games with any stereotypical negative fat attributes. You might expect a fat character to regain energy or get superpowers from eating a lot, but nothing like this is found in any of the official Nintendo games. Food or eating never plays much of a part in any of the games, in fact. As for being out of shape, Mario again goes against type and is constantly shown to be superhumanly athletic and limber. At this point he has been an Olympic athlete thrice and starred in dozens of sports titles with nary a mention that his size would be a setback for his sporting prowess.

Not to mention all the dancing.

You might argue that Mario’s lack of personality or character development would be a point against this theory. It is true that Mario has always been the most uninteresting person in the Mushroom Kingdom, where even his brother has received some growth as a character over the years. Mario is a total blank slate – the prototypical Hero and nothing more. But I believe that this is actually one of the most compelling reasons why we might view him as a positive fat character. Mario is a total gameplay device, void of meaningful personal expression, so while he is the default Hero he is outside of the convention because of his fatness. He is a default that doesn’t follow the expected default manly look at all. Compare this to Samus , who was such an important female figure in gaming because she was a stock character that just happened to be a woman, without her being a woman really mattering to the gameplay or plot. In the same way Mario is a stock hero archetype that just happens to be a chubby dude when he might as well not be.

But just how much praise does Nintendo deserve? Hard to say, since I believe there was never a concious intention to portray a positive example of a fat character. Mario is a first and foremost a brand, a mascot and a familiar, friendly selling point for a company out to make money. Consider that while Mario and Luigi are big guys with no demeaning fat jokes at their expense, their enemy Wario is shown to be much fatter and one of his main character traits is that eats a lot, wears clothes that are far too small and his special attack is farting. Similarly, there are very few fat female characters in the Mario universe, with the few exceptions being minor characters in spin-offs. Points off there.

Regardless of this I still think they should be commended from not changing Mario to make him more athletically built or slimming him down just to appear more modern. Mario is loved for the way he is and he remains a happy, smiley, chubby role model for fat positivity. I think at the very least Shigeru Miyamoto should get a slight pat on the back for not stopping himself during his early sessions designing this tiny, pixelated character called Jumpman and going “hmm, nah, I probably should make him look too fat”.

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What The Hell Are Penny Arcade Talking About?

First of all I would like to explain and excuse my absence for the past few weeks. This has never been the most consistently updated blog but my writing time has been solely dedicated to finishing up the pieces I had the massive pleasure to write for the Swedish gaming site FZ.se. If you feel confident with your Swedish language skills you can read them all here, here and even here. Getting the opportunity to go to London and write these previews is something I am deeply thankful for and I’m glad that the texts seem to have been pretty well-received so far.

But, let us stride onwards to the topic of the day. If you’re reading this I am going to assume you are somehow online, which means that you are also aware of Penny Arcade. PA is by some margin the biggest webcomic in the world and its position is not entirely undeserved, since Gabe and Tycho have managed to produce some quality content during their 14 year long voyage. While I am not a big fan myself, their strips tend to make their way on to forums and blogs within minutes of publication and because the site is such a major factor in the industry it’s hard to neglect their presence and influence.

Despite this incredible stature they have in the industry, I can’t help but wonder if their time as the foremost ambassadors of gaming culture has finally passed? Like I said, personally I haven’t been a fan of the comic for a few years and I have been even less inclined towards Tycho’s often incredibly obtuse yet often substantially poor blog posts but I couldn’t help but find myself transfixed by his latest text.

Now, from what I can gather, this is written in response to the controversy which flared up as a result of this Hitman: Absolution trailer. I honestly can’t tell you with perfect certainty what point he may be trying to present behind his thesaurus-wankery but I think that what his tirade boils down to is that since the trailer isn’t easy to masturbate to it ceases to be sexist.

It’s fight choreography, and it may set an “erotic” stage but it quickly – and I mean quickly – gives way to a gruesome, life or death, septum obliterating struggle that might be hot for somebody but I suspect that’s a very specific demographic.  Only a necrophile could be titillated by something like this; by the end, it literally defies the viewer to maintain an erection.  As spank material, it leaves something to be desired; specifically, spank material.

The trailer shows a number of female assassins dressed in fetish gear, brandishing a ridiculous assortment of weapons being picked off one by one by the game’s protagonist Agent 47. Most of the action is presented in slow-motion, extreme close-up shots so we can really see when 47’s clenched fists punches a woman’s nasal bone right into their brainspace. Tycho defends this imagery by namechecking Grindhouse and Robert Rodriguez and the trailer does certainly have a pulpy vibe to it, but the problem with this analogy and the thing he neglects to mention is that in both the Grindhouse movies, the women were the protagonists.

Those movies had a lot of sexualised violence in them, for sure, but it was the female characters’ revenge on their male assailants that was the primary focus. When Hitman: Absolution sells itself with this imagery it presents no other context for us apart from “here is a bunch of women and Agent 47 (that’s YOU – the one YOU identify with) isn’t afraid to fuck them up beyond belief” and when Tycho takes his “oh, what’s the big deal” stance, I find that rubs against his self-proclaimed role as the guardian of the medium which he has held high ever since Jack Thompson went out of business. The fact that it’s very difficult to get an erection because of it does not negate that it is highly sexualised and highly offensive when the whole film is shot like it’s an advert for Marks & Spencers with vaseline on the lens to get that perfectly lush pornographic bloom. Square Enix may not actually expect most of us to get off on it but they still expect us to get off on it enough to want to play that character killing those women in that way.

Tycho’s shrugging response to what is in essence a major gaming company selling a AAA-title with violence against women reminds me of the huge Dickwolves-controversy which you can read about right here. This is just another incident in a long line of similar ones that betrays a view on women that is both pompously didactic and oddly reactionary. Of course it’s practically impossible for Tycho and Gabe to take the moral high ground when Square Enix and IO Interactive produce this trailer because Penny Arcade did something remarkably similar when they themselves made money out of a rape gag that plenty of people found personally offensive.

Now, I am not saying that I think rape jokes are off the table for all time, because I genuinely believe that there is a time and place for any topic to become funny. However, when you decide to make a cheap joke out of a sensitive taboo topic you have to consider the delivery and the context. I think that when you – two successful men – make a comic where the sole punchline is that rape is funny and and as a result get a torrent of replies – primarily from women – who are personally offended by this, the best way to make amends is probably not to mass-produce a t-shirt based on the joke out of spite. PA defended themselves by saying that because they weren’t actually advocating rape they had done nothing to be angry about, refusing to take any of the arguments against them into consideration or even seriously address them. The joke itself was pointless, offensive and, most importantly, not very funny, but it is the poor response to the controversy that really showed their true colours. Instead of trying to address subjects such as triggers and the misogyny inherent in this kind of humour, they decided to taunt and make fun of them instead. This sort of response has a really pungent stench of victim-blaming all over it, along with their usually privileged von oben snobbery.

And this is what makes me feel that Penny Arcade are no longer a force for good in the gaming community. They are not interested in creating a better dialogue between people in the gaming industry, nor do they want to promote understanding and help pull the blanket of blatant misogyny and chauvinism from the culture they claim to be the moral purveyors of. It doesn’t matter that threats of rape and violence towards women in the community is such a big problem that every single one of  the major online gaming outlets are struggling to deal with it. Square Enix put a finger in the air, decided that this trailer was the thing that appealed the most to their target audience and Penny Arcade thinks that’s perfectly fine because Kim Swift also exists. Wait, what? What the hell do they mean? Are they making the point that since Kim Swift is a woman in the gaming industry we no longer have any reason to complain about the portrayal of women in the gaming industry? That feels almost Santorumesque in its idiocy.

It may well be that I am making an odd connection myself when I equate this latest gaffe to the Dickwolves debacle, but it shows that Penny Arcade’s attitude towards these kind of issues remain unchanged. I don’t believe that this kind of lazy apologist attitude is something we need or should as accept as a community, especially when it concerns the consistently negative portrayal of half of that community’s members. I’m not sure if it’s laziness or lack of understanding but for whatever reason Penny Arcade decided to take the publisher’s side here and chose to not see a problem. By doing so they once again turn their backs on more than half of the community – not for the first time and most likely not for the last. So it is worth to once again ask the question; what the hell are Penny Arcade on about? And why are we still allowing them to sit unopposed on their pedestals?

The Beauty Of Ugly

I’m not going to pretend like you haven’t seen it already but in case you suffer from some kind of internet move hype-induced amnesia or something; here’s the new trailer for that Prometheus film.

Pretty damn impressive, although not quite as brilliant as the last one, for my money. But there was one brief moment in this trailer that caught my eye and while it occurs for less than a second it got me thinking about something I have been meaning to address for a while now. Hop aboard the nitpick-train because it’s leaving station.

Around 1:18 in the clip we get a blink-and-miss-it POV shot from one of the crew’s mounted cameras, which is one of several nice little callbacks to the original Alien which this is totally not a prequel to.

You may notice that not-Tom Hardy up there can be viewed in absolutely crisp high-definition along with all the totally necessary UI surrounding the image. Doesn’t it look beautiful? Remember how this movie takes places decades, it not centuries, before Alien but still in the same universe? So just how will portable camera technology advance in the years after this?

That is a screenshot from the Alien Director’s Cut but you could be forgiven for mistaking it for a picture taken on a ten year old Nokia. You can sort of see a guy with his head in a fishbowl, maybe, and some other guy in a sort of shower cap behind him, or that’s a painting or something, maybe. This insinuates that within the movie’s universe we will technologically de-evolve from using portable 1080i cameras to using recording equipment that is barely higher definition than the Game Boy Camera.

57 years later we have apparently not made much progress in the field as this clip from Aliens demonstrates.

Okay, yes, I obviously understand that this is a result of real life technology advancing over the course of three decades and it is reflected in the later movie, despite that taking place before the original. In 1979 the technology to produce HD footage was barely available to filmmakers, so to create a POV effect they had no choice but to use smaller cameras which produced much grainer film. This helped create a more realistic sequence where we follow the characters through an unknown, hostile landscape while we, like them, can barely make out their surroundings. It makes for an oppressive, dark and deeply intense exploration. When the same technique was used in Aliens the jerky, barely comprehensible video feeds made the initial battle with the monsters that much more exhilarating. Most of the time we can only see the characters sweating as they stare impotently as the video feeds shake, twitch and begin going offline one by one.

That limitation does not exist in a time when we’re all effectively carrying around HD-video cameras to easily document our insanely important lives. But as a result of this I can’t help but feel that the effect achieved in the original movie will not be as replicable when the footage from the shoulder-mounted cameras will be of basically the same quality as the footage in the rest of the film. If you removed all the little graphs and text from the screen it would be nearly indistinguishable from the rest of the trailer because the quality of small handheld cameras are not that much noticeably lower than the big hunkering 3D and IMAX cameras that shot the rest of the film. The immediate closeness and realism that the POV shots in the previous movies managed to create might not be as easily achieved without all that lovely grain and gravel on the lens.

While HD is by no means a negative thing, I sometimes feel that when every film and every game is made with such lush, crisp graphics things have a tendency to becomes a bit too sterile and lifeless. There is a lot of beauty in the imperfect that you lose when you remove the limits of what you can do with an image. Take the recently released Silent Hill HD Collection as a brilliant example. I personally can’t think of anything that is less suitable for an HD remake than Silent Hill, since so much of the atmosphere and tone of the games came from how well the developers used the limitations of the hardware. The fog, the film grain, the darkness – they were all essentially parts in making the games so terrifying. What Konami of today does not seem to understand is that while these were results of limitations at the time, they were not flaws. In the HD Collections both the fog and the grain filter have been taken out entirely, which makes about as much sense as cutting the zombies out of Dawn Of The Dead.

Image from Dualshockers.com

Yeah, that’s the new, supposedly improved version on the left. Somebody at Konami looked at that and thought it was an improvement.. Notice how the graphics, now blown up to HD, look bloody terrible when there is nothing to hide all the imperfections and the horrendous draw distance. The fog hid the player’s surroundings from them so you had no way of knowing if you were standing just a few feet away from an enemy. The town itself seemed to be closing in on you as the disorientation and paranoia grew, creating a sense that the fog itself and the evils therein were smothering you. It was put there to mask a technical limitation but it absolutely served a purpose beyond just masking up the hardware limitations. It was all there for a reason, you idiots.

I guess this annoys me so much because I love both Ridley Scott’s old sci-fi movies and the Silent Hill games and it screws with my head when I realise how neither creator seems to understand what made their original works so good. Alien and Blade Runner were among the last science fiction movies ever made that features no CG but relied entirely on handmade effects. They also happen to be two of the best and most beautiful science fiction movies of all time, not despite of this but because of it.

Yes, it’s tempting to crank the framerate up to eleven and use 3D cameras and make everything crystal clear, and there is certainly a place for it, but I do wish that the beauty of the handmade, imperfect still has its place. Think of how uselessly silly Jaws would have been if Spielberg’s shark hadn’t constantly broken down so they were forced to shot most of the film without it, or how lifeless and dull all the fake environments in the Star Wars prequels look compared to the grimmy real-life locations of the originals.

While I am pretty sure that Prometheus can stand up despite this incredibly insignificant detail, I feel it might be important to recall the wisdom of Marilyn Monroe, and I sincerely hope that Konami are reading this right now.

“Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.”

Why Kickstarter Is Not Going To Save Games

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Have you been alright? You look lovely.

With those pointless niceties out of the way, why don’t we have a little chat about this whole Kickstarter/Indiegogo/Rockethub crowdfunding business that seems to be all the rage. While crowdfunding is by no means a new endeavour – Marillion have funded entire tours and the production of several albums purely from fan donations since the late 90’s – but the phenomenon didn’t blow up on a big industry-wide scale until Double Fine launched their Adventure Kickstarter project. You know the score by now; Tim Schafer asked for $400,000 to make a classic point-n-click game and by the time the campaign ended a month later his team and him had received almost 3 and a half million from fans eager to see how return to the genre he made his name in. Developers across the globe were quick to sense an opportunity and within weeks there were dozens of game related projects clogging up Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites and just a few days ago another milestone was reached when inXile Entertainment came away with $2,933,252 for their bid to create a sequel to the old Fallout-predecessor “Wasteland”.

It is indeed an exciting and curious time for the industry with many asking what this model might do to change the relationship between developers and publishers. Traditionally publishers have been the main gatekeepers of the industry which has lead to an increase in “safe” AAA-projects with guaranteed returns and crowdfunding might be a new way for developers to get funding from the fans themselves to create game with more niche appeal. Many dream of an idealistic future where developers don’t have to cower and compromise to satisfy publishers’ demands, something both Double Fine and inXile humorously parodied in their Kickstarter videos. “Dead” genres and games with a more narrow focus can get funding straight from the players that want them instead of being cut down by the bigwigs who are too scared to produce anything high-risk.

Now, this certainly sounds spiffy, doesn’t it? Well, allow me to play devil’s advocate for a moment and let’s look beyond the potential Utopia predicted by this wave of optimism. Always the hackneyed sourpuss, let’s ask some pertinent questions regarding the so-called Kickstarter model (because this article is quite wordy and not very “full of jokes or cursing”, I have decided to soften the blow by punctuating each paragraph with an old school gif animation from my personal collection):

“What if a Kickstarter-funded game turns out to be rubbish?”

I don’t doubt that there is plenty of talent and competence on call at both Double Fine or inXile, but consider that the most recent major releases out of these companies are “Brütal Legend” and “Hunted: The Demon’s Forge”. While neither of these games were terrible exactly, they were hardly considered much better than average either. What happens if, after fans have thrown literally millions of dollars at these projects and one or both turn out to be less than stellar? I am not saying this will happen but it absolutely could. No game is a guaranteed hit regardless of the amount of experience, talent and money behind it. It’s all well and good now to demonise publishers as Scrooge-like killjoys now but how do you think the internet is going to respond to a below-average title that they themselves sank a butt-load of cash into? And it is going to happen. At some point a big Kickstarter project is going to deliver something mediocre and how will that affect crowdfunding in the future? Soon enough, people are going to be much more careful about the kind of projects they choose to fund and then they will take on the same cautious role as the very publishers they thought they were making obsolete.

“What if a game gets cancelled?”

It’s tragic, but this happens. Like, a lot. Keeping with our most famous examples, at this point both “Double Fine Adventure” and “Wasteland 2” are just in the pre-production stage and very few games even make it out of that phase alive. Sure, a lot of times this is due to lack of funding, which is unlikely to be an issue right now, but there are other factors that can affect a the development of a game. Maybe the company is suddenly hit with an unexpected economic backlash or they get sued or a bunch of people decide to leave mid-development or the game just isn’t looking that good halfway into development. Say Double Fine gets hit with a massive lawsuit from nowhere and has to funnel most of their assets into even surviving as a company. If, for whatever reason, “Adventure” has to be cancelled, no money is going to be returned to the people who funded it (Double Fine does have a colourful history of games being delayed or otherwise affected by legal issues so this example isn’t entirely grabbed out of thin air). Refer back to the tail-end of the above paragraph but multiply it by about 100 for how that’s going to make people cautious or suspicious towards future crowdfunding projects.

“What if these games don’t make any money?/How are these games going to make any money?”

Here’s a question that struck me as I was researching this article and since I am no economist, I’d really love an actual answer to this; how is a crowdfunded game going to make a profit at all? If the money to make the game is provided by the people who want to play it, and the donations they make grants them access to the game when it’s done, who is going to actually buy it when it’s released? Consider that 81724 people have already given Double Fine money to make “Adventure”, a niche point-n-click game for the PC and about 216000 people bought “Brütal Legend” which was a big multi-platform release with plenty of marketing behind it. Almost 82000 people are going to get this game on release day and play it but not one of them is going to generate a profit since they have already put their money into the development. How many people that did not already donate to the campaign are going to buy the game? I’d actually like to know how this business model could ever work in the long-term so if you are savvy with money please give me the “as if I’m 3 years old” version in the comments.

“What if this will negatively affect the relationship with publishers?”

Despite our best efforts publishers are not currently all out in the gutter, hungrily sucking on bits of gravel for nourishment and they won’t be for any kind of foreseeable future. Even though the biggest Kickstarter projects generated a respectable amount of money, the fact remains that 3 million dollars is vanishingly little compared to most games produced today. The average cost to make a game in 2010 was somewhere between $23,000,000 and $28,000,000 and it is not unlikely that this figure is much higher today. There is still a long (probably impossibly so) way before crowdfunding can make publishers redundant but what effect will this have on the relationship between them and developers in the future? As this Kotaku article examines, it’s not an unlikely scenario that publishers might avoid working altogether with companies that seek to fund their projects using Kickstarter. Take into account the possibility that any of the previous “what if” scenarios might occur, at which point the developer is even more reliant on publisher assistance than before. If crowdfunding turns out to be a passing fad it could lead to plenty of upcoming  “look who’s come crawling back” meetings. Oh, and on that note:

“What if crowdfunding turns out to be a passing fad?”

How much money do you have? How much of your disposable income do you spend on games? How much are you prepared to funnel into games that aren’t even being worked on yet? With no guarantee for a return on your investment? Right now, Kickstarter can do no wrong as far as gamers are concerned. All projects are being funded with several times more money than what was originally asked for and the wave is riding high with optimism for the future. However, as is eternally the case this too shall pass. When it comes to money people are fickle by nature and while the bubble is growing people tend to spend spend spend because what could possibly go wrong? The bubble continues to grow as more  developers cash in, more nostalgia is milked with resurrected franchises and promising new ideas. It might be because any of the previous scenarios happens or something much smaller or it may just be as simple as people running out of money to spend on potential games, but at some point the tap is going to run dry. One day some promising project will not get enough money to be funded and that day will mark the moment people lost interest. I don’t mean to be pointlessly pessimistic here, but considering the amount of money in play (which is a lot for ordinary people but peanuts for publishers) it’s hard to see that this is a model that is built to last, at least not on a larger scale.

Despite this negativity, I am certain we will see plenty of great games created using this model but I doubt that it will extend beyond smaller and mid-level studios. And you know what, that’s great too. I doubt we will see a “Mass Effect 4” or “FIFA 2014” funded entirely by player donations but it’s definitely possible that we’ll see a new “Braid” or “Sword & Sworcery EP” or “Fez” or “Super Meat Boy”. In that sense, I remain whole-heartedly optimistic.

A Poor Gamer’s Plight

I promised myself when I started this blog that it wasn’t going to feature too much throwaway material, hence the quite sporadic updates. A keen blogger, I wanted the content on DTB! to be sort of universally appealing instead of just me musing incoherently as most of my previous blogs have been. Writing this entry makes my skin itch a little for these reasons, as it is probably much more written “for” me than for anybody else. I apologise in advance.

The sad fact is that I am very poor right now. I could give you a number to describe my current monetary situation and it would only feature two digits. As it is it doesn’t look like this is going to change any time soon either so I trawl forward on other people’s charity and my own tears for rudimentary sustenance. One would think that this state of sedentary poverty would be golden for my gaming and writing interests, but that would be a faulty assumption.

Due to my personal budget collapse I have been forced to a solitary gaming existence where AAA-titles zoom by in the world outside and me unable to grab any for myself. I have not played Portal 2, LA Noire or even any of the Assassin’s Creed games. I managed to get my hands on the original Mass Effect which was on sale for less than a tenner due to the broken plastic box, but that is about as connected I have been to the mainstream release schedule. When I was working and had the funds I ironically found myself sans any free time to indulge in any gaming. Working 12 hours per day will take it out of the best of them and since I spent all that time playing games at work I was less than in the mood to do the same on my few hours of freedom.

So I fled. I fled into the world of cheap indie-games. I fled to my iPod and my XBLA where I have been nesting for the well over a year by this point. I have played Limbo, Braid, Sword & Sworcery EP, Angry Birds, The Nightjar, Canabalt, Archon, Infinity Blade and Plants Vs. Zombies for hours on end and been thoroughly enjoying myself. As the rest of the world is busy swooning over the facial animations in LA Noire I’m far too invested in the adventures of The Scythian and Dogfella to notice the hubbub. I am in a vacuum. An iVacuum.

I love games and I keep up with the industry to the best of my abilities, but right now I’m on the fringe, which I count as both a blessing and a curse. One day I will (hopefully) be back at some sort of normal schedule with a relatively steady stream of income to boot at which point I will pick up where I left off, but until then I’m having way too much fun with my iPod to really care.

And yes, I will review Sword & Sworcery.

Gearbox And The Gay Robot Trick

Let us first take a look at this classic DTB-excerpt from last April 22nd:

now I hope to return to some kind of semi-regular updating schedule

Yeah, I got your hopes up and I crushed them. Sorry about that. My empty promises aside, let’s blog again. Here we go!

The big hubbub during the last 24 hours has surrounded the cutT gay character in the constantly-upcoming Duke Nukem Forever. According to Gearbox there were plans to include a sidekick for the Duke whose sexual preference was to be slightly at odds with Nukem’s own. The story’s been covered everywhere since Randy Pitchford made the non-announcement and everybody’s having opinions about this non-existent character that won’t show up in a game. Whether it would have been a disaster (it almost certainly would have been) or not is sort of irrelevant now though – the character wasn’t taken out of the game during the late beta-stage or anything, but only ever existed briefly as a possible inclusion and never made it past the ideas stage. For a game that’s been in development as long as Duke Forever, I would have been surprised if “gay robot sidekick”* wasn’t brought to the table at least once.

It’s therefore odd that Gearbox has even taken the time to bring the whole thing up in the first place. PR seems to be the easy answer; get people talking about something you almost discussed having in your (probably) terrible game is a good, easy strategy to get the internet buzzing with… I dunno, excitement? Gearbox played the “gay” card because that still holds quite a lot of power in today’s gaming industry. Holy crap, a GAY character? What, in, like, a real game? The thought! Gasps everywhere, for a plethora or reasons; would it have been homophobic? Empowering? Funny? Icky? How would it have turned out if it had happened?

I don’t know. And I see no reason to care. This is a non-story entirely brought about because Gearbox are buying time since people are – again – losing interest in their vaporware. The Gay Robot story is pure PR disguised as something else and far too few gaming news outlets have called them on this. Everybody is asking “why was this cut?” when they should ask “why are you telling us this? Characters, maps, music, story elements and concepts get cut in games all the time up until release day, so why do you expect us to think it’s interesting just because this one particular item had the word ‘gay’ attached to it in mile-high neon letters? We’re forward-thinking, progressive and the word ‘gay’ does not frighten or excite us so stop your petty marketing crap on us, Mr Pitchford. Go finish your fucking game instead.”

*I used to play bass for “Gay Robot Sidekick”

Soon You Can Buy Resident Evil 4 – Again!

Capcom is about to please a very particular type of fringe-demographic with their latest announcement: the people who still haven’t played Resident Evil 4. In fact, it’s fair to assume that most people who have played RE4 b4 have also bought it at least twice in any of its previous five dozen incarnations (or at least 10), considering the game was once called a “Gamecube exclusive”. I own it for the Gamecube, the Playstation 2 and the Wii, which is quite impressive for a game it took me two playthroughs before I stopped thinking it was a disappointment. Soon you will be able to buy it all over again for the 360 and PS3 with the impossibly diffuse title “Resident Evil Revival Selection HD Remastered Version.”

Yes, it’s a classic and yes, it could be quite nice to see it in HD and maybe get something out of the online capabilities, but apart from crisper graphics is there any real reason to pay money for this game again? It feels futile to further satirise Capcom and their eagerness to milk their successes, but surely even they must draw the line somewhere. RE4 is a great game, one of the greatest ever, but it was great when we lived it through on the microscopic TVs we had to suffer before HD rolled around and saved our eyes from screens smaller than a single atom cleft in twain.

And that’s not all! Be sure to stay tuned for the 3D version coming out in 2012, brining us a new dimension of fear.

Kinect Sports Wins A BAFTA (And By Extension, So Do I)

Yes, last night was the seventh annual British Academy Video Games Awards and Rare capped off the year with a BAFTA for Best Family Game for Kinect Sports, beating out other Kinect titles like Kinectimals and Dance Central. Some of you will be aware that Kinect Sports is also the game I spent most of last year working on in my first gig as a professional video game tester and thus I want to send huge congratulations to all my testing, programming, artworking, developing colleagues who I know worked themselves to the bone to get the game out on time and in such fine shape. It was a pleasure to struggle side by side and monitor by monitor with the lot of you and I can’t wait to do it all again.

The big winner of the night turned out to be Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain with 3 wins, while Mass Effect 2 took home Best Game. Sadly, my personal favourite Alan Wake did not get any of the three awards it was nominated for.

But I think we can all agree that, despite this, Kinect Sports was the best game of last year, if not the past decade. In fact, I believe we basically made all of video game production entirely obsolete, since we created something which can hardly be matched, let alone bettered. And I hope I don’t sound arrogant when I claim it’s basically all thanks to me and my testing. You’re all very welcome.

All the winners of the evening were:

Action: Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood
Artistic Achievement: God Of War III
Best Game: Mass Effect 2
Family: Kinect Sports
Gameplay: Super Mario Galaxy 2
Handheld: Cut The Rope
Multiplayer: Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit
Original Music: Heavy Rain
Social Network Game: My Empire
Sports: F1 2010
Story: Heavy Rain
Strategy: Civilization V
Technical Innovation: Heavy Rain
Use Of Audio: Battlefield: Bad Company 2
BAFTA Ones To Watch Award: Twang!
GAME Award Of 2010: Call Of Duty: Black Ops
Academy Fellowship: Peter Molyneux

Another World Coming To iOS

Great news for fans of Eric Chahi’s classic platform adventure Another World – or Out Of This World if you’re a yank – as the title has been announced for a iOS release later this year. The game was originally released in 1991 and has previous been ported to over a dozen systems including the SNES, Commodore 64, Mega Drive, Atari ST and for mobile phones, although this is yet another great excuse to catch up on Lester Knight Chaykin and his adventures in, well, another world. As games for the iPhone and iPad has a tendency to control less than perfect when it attempts to emulate retro controls it might not be the ultimate conversion but the story and the timeless graphics should be enough to take the plunge into Chahi’s masterpiece once more.

Dare I say it is… out of this world?

The Death Of The Angry Video Game Nerd

Today saw the release of the 100th episode of James Rolfe’s deranged creation AVGN, or Angry Video Game Nerd for long. It’s been five years since the first episode was posted on Youtube and since then Rolfe has become one of the cornerstones of the online reviewing community and been the obvious inspiration for almost anybody who decided to combine swearing, retro games and poor camera quality into one. For better or worse, AVGN has shaped a large chunk of the gaming comedy landscape over the last half-decade and for that he deserves some kind of salute.

AVGN was always a mix of scatological comedy mixed with strange sketch bits, often very over-the-top and inspired by cartoons like old Looney Tunes shorts and Ren & Stimpy. It’s been hit and miss to say the least and the fanbase is fiercely divided on what type of episodes they prefer; some like the more informative and downplayed variant like the CD-i reviews and Castlevaniathon while others are partial to the episodes focusing more on visual comedy and guest characters, such as the Bugs Bunny reviews and his Halloween serials. Personally, I’ve often found myself best enjoying the episodes that manage to blend the two styles together to the best effect, which the 100th episode actually does rather well. Other personal favourites are Die Hard, Dragon’s Lair, Indiana Jones and the two Bible Games specials.

It’s hard not to appreciate the effort and often-decent results, though. Rolfe along with collaborator and artist Mike Matei have made some genuine internet classics, released a whole trough’s worth of DVD and been the inspiration for most of the best reviewers out there today, his theme song (written and performed by Kyle Justin) is a meme in its own right and it’ll have to be a particularly bad apocalypse to erase familiar phrases like “shitload of fuck” and “Cowa-fucking-piece-of-dog-shit!” from our collective internet vocabulary. And that is something which is not nothing, at least.

Watch all 100 AVGN videos spread out over the Youtube channel and on Gametrailers.

You can also visit James Rolfe’s website Cinemassacre where you will also find his other videos and short films.

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