Opinion: E3, Vita and the Best and Worst Gaming Moments of 2012
21st Dec 2012 | 10:52
Hello. I'm Michael Gapper. I've lived here at Future Publishing for almost six years now, mostly on Xbox World and PSM3. I'll be contributing a weekly column about the best and worst of the gaming, here on CVG, starting in January. That's then, this is now - so I'm starting with a one-off special look at the best and worst games (and moments) of 2012.
It was a big year for gaming but a bit of a crap year too, with baffling new hardware bridging the gap between ageing consoles and a new generation still about eleven months away. It was a year when someone thought it would be cool to graphically burn someone to death in the first scene of the year's biggest game, when a man died talking about his erection, when Lara Croft wasn't molested even if it looked like she was, and when
Let me know some of your own Bests and Worsts from 2012 in the comments - no prize if you list this column as a Worst - and we'll catch up again in the New Year.
Best: Double Fine changes everything
Kickstarter lets interested parties invest in ideas with potential, but that's an abstract way of thinking about it. Kickstarter, at its best, is about laying down money for the longest long-term pre-order you'll make this side of
Now Kickstarter, unfortunately, isn't the innovation factory it could be. It could be used to fund wholly original projects with mechanics and concepts so far from the mainstream that no publisher would buy it and no developer would make it without first checking to see if anyone actually wanted to buy the bloody thing. Instead, it's more often the ass end of Skid Row, where long-forgotten developers peddle remade versions of their most beloved games. "C'mon guv'nor, just a few quid for a Fallout remake?", "You remember Dizzy, mate? I can do you anuvver for a tenner, honest!"
Kickstarter has been abused by some developers since Double Fine's experiment back in February, but Kickstarter could and should change everything about the way games are made and played in 2013. It's time to start investing in proven developers looking to experiment rather than nostalgia.
"But what if Double Fine Adventure turns out to be shit?" sneer sceptics. Well yeah, but every pre-order is a gamble. Just ask anyone who paid five quid to reserve
Worst: Playstation Vita launches and developers shrug
Now, don't get me wrong - I love Sony's new-ish handheld. It's sturdier than a Japanese puroresu table, has a razor-sharp OLED screen on which everything looks beautiful and it's home to some of my favourite games of the year. I played
It's over, man. Vita's 2013 release list is a post-apocalyptic Mad Maxian wasteland and a quick chat with our industry friends reveals no significant unannounced projects in the pipeline bar the few bankrolled by Sony. There aren't many games announced for 360 or PS3 either, but that's because they're seven year-old machines about to be replaced. Vita is brand new, but when it's only marginally more expensive to make a game for PS3 (70 million users) than it is for Vita (3 million users) there's no incentive for publishers to support the platform, especially when Sony has set the standard for what Vita games should be with miniaturised versions of massively expensive games.
The trouble is, mobile gaming changed while Sony weren't looking. "I really want to play
Right now Vita is at its best when it's running PSP and PS1 games, which might turn out to be it's best survival strategy in 2013. It's the only handheld with a decent set of sticks and buttons so if Sony can get the infrastructure in place they can turn Vita into a dedicated Gaikai machine on which you can stream PS2, PS3 and even PS4 games and have them actually work. If nobody wants to support Vita, just make Vita support everybody.
Worst: Everyone hates Mass Effect 3's ending
I love science fiction. I will sit down and talk about science fiction until nobody wants to have sex with me ever again and I'll have fun doing it. I've read and seen enough to know some of the best science fiction stories - Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion, Rendezvous with Rama, The Stars My Destination, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner - close with ambiguous endings. Science fiction is always better at posing questions than it is at offering answers, and in that sense Mass Effect 3 has the most appropriate science fiction ending Bioware could have written.
And y'know, all that is me trying to justify
Some players demanded a rewrite because the ending left questions unanswered, some hated the gaping plot holes and others hated the reductive three-way choice, but none of those problems - and they are problems - really bothered me. Ambiguity works for me and Mass Effect 3 is really just one twenty-hour third act in which decisions made five years ago reach their logical and illogical conclusions throughout the game, so I was pretty satisfied with how my story worked out.
But no. The ending is bollocks because it comes courtesy of a giant deus ex machina which demands a completely arbitrary sacrifice from Shep and operates in a completely arbitrary manner once activated. Deus ex machinas are always bad. They're ejector seats for lazy writers who need an easy way out while the story falls burning from the sky and crashes into the side of a mountain like a dart. Sudden magic or lucky happenstance occurring from out of nowhere breaks your suspension of disbelief and makes the threads by which the plot hangs together too visible.
Now, a giant gun discovered at the beginning of your third act is a deus ex machina, especially when more interesting MacGuffins were teased as potential galaxy-savers in acts one and two. It's the equivalent of the Rebel Alliance producing a bumper-sized SUPER DEATH STAR to blow up the Empire's own Death Star at the end of Return of the Jedi and being all "look what we found!"
A few months later Bioware lost their nerve and went on to patch out a lot of the ambiguity without fixing the deus ex machina problem, and everyone was almost happy because at least we know the relays will be rebuilt and that the Normandy still flies, right? Never mind that the ending is still terrible and now Mass Effect 3 has the videogame version of Return of the King's INFINITE ENDINGS.
In the end, Mass Effect 3 got the wrong rewrite for the wrong reasons thanks to people with the right idea based on wrong evidence.
Worst: E3 2012
Never go to E3. Cast from your mind any idea of playing big games early or seeing something you'd never see at home, and instead replace it with total obliviousness and confusion for five jetlagged days. Every conversation begins with the question, "Have you seen Game X?" to which you'll reply "No," because you've seen maybe three games total and spent six hours locked in a conference room in a Koreatown hotel writing about them with absolutely no frame of reference for the other things that might have happened that very same day.
This year's E3 was one of the worst ever, too. The games industry has become altogether too obsessed with murder and too good at selling things, and every major "live" demo of every game was a scripted sequence fabricated from disparate parts into the most smash-mouth-in-your-face bloodbath thrillreel a video editor could chop together. Nintendo gave us another mystery presentation about Wii U that made no sense until the console hit shelves in November, Microsoft gave up fifteen minutes of their show to Usher and a bloke from Nike, and I can't remember anything of Sony's show except for the part where Wonderbook didn't work and when my friend Dave got really excited about the boats in Assassin's Creed 3.
Cut to five months later, and it turns out the boats are the only exciting thing in
Best: Gamescom 2012
No, what you really want is to go to Gamescom. Gamescom is like E3 but not completely awful in every way. Sure, you don't get the huge announcements or the LIVE DANCE PARTY FEATURING USHER AND SPECIAL GUEST: MAN FROM NIKE but then you do get to do crazy things like interview Warren Spector for forty-five minutes without sharing your time with a Eurojourno who wants to know how Mickey Mouse can operate a paintbrush when he's a mouse, so it all balances out.
Most of what makes E3 terrible is LA. If your friend phones you at E3 and asks you to meet him on the other side of town, the best you can do is hop in a taxi and see 'em in an hour. In Cologne you can walk across the entire city in minutes, and it's a beautiful city filled with magnificent sights and pubs which serve proper foamy German beer and giant slabs of fried meat way into the night. Best of all, real people can get in. Three of Gamescom's five days are open to the public, making it into one of Europe's best nerd conventions.
Worst: The games industry makes us look like freaks
By the time we got to the second day of E3, we were exhausted by all the violence.
There's a reason why so many games are about guns and killing. When you're distanced from events playing out on screen it takes massive actions to provoke a response. Twitching your finger and seeing someone die is just about the biggest gap possible between the size of the input and the size of the action, so it makes sense to build your videogame around (hopefully righteous) murder.
Motion-controlled games get away with representing the mundane because they involve realistic gestures, but shooters on a controller or a mouse are total abstraction. Cooking Mama on Wii works because you're making a relatively significant action yourself - a chopping motion, for instance - for a small action on screen. Videogames are so often about killing because it's easier to satisfy your brain's need for input and dramatic response when people are dying. Violence in games is okay. Violence makes sense.
But 2012 was the year when the videogames industry took to its grandest stage and chose a fetishised pornographic celebration of murder and suffering as its ambassador to the world. There were gaping open wounds and countless atrocities, point-blank headshots and graphic torture, bloody torture with a knife and power drill, scenes of graphic sexualised violence against women, suicide, horrific suffering and implied sexual assault, sustained ultraviolence and agonising death from multiple wounds, impalement through the face, death by devouring and - my favourite - bludgeoning, immolation and the graphic point-blank murder of a man begging for his life.
Those trailers were all released over two days for god's sakes. And let's not forget EA made a game produced in conjunction with arms manufacturers and championed the "authenticity" of its own brand of mass murder in comparison to its competition.
Violence in games is okay. Violence makes sense. But using your analogue stick to twist a knife stuck in a man's shoulder? Why are we using that moment to represent what videogaming is to the world, especially when that moment doesn't even begin to represent the intricate stealth/action game it's a part of?
Why does everyone think gamers are basement-dwelling would-be mass murderers? Because of this.
Best: Virtual reality is an actual reality
The only things I enjoyed at E3 were the strawberry milkshake I had on the day I landed at LAX and the half-hour I spent with John Carmack on the last day of the show. I understood about two thirds of what he said, which by Carmack standards is pretty good, and the session concluded with him strapping me into his own personal pair of Oculus Rift virtual reality goggles.
From now on Oculus Rift is the only way I want to play any first person shooter. It changes everything. I hope they sell millions and I hope every developer on PC supports it. Just don't look down and rock from side to side or you'll yak up that milkshake in about thirty seconds.
Best: Peter Molyneux's curious cocks
Best: Mark of the Ninja knows what stealth is all about
It's been an amazing year for stealth games but Mark of the Ninja was the best. Assassin's Creed 3 is loaded with mystery rules which never seem to work, Hitman Absolution is a better Splinter Cell than a Hitman,
Worst: Nobody buys games any more
Every Monday we get an email filled with last week's game sales figures and while we can't publish them because we haven't paid for the rights, we spend the day aghast at just how poorly even big games sell and how little a game needs to sell to chart in the top ten so long as it's released in the right week. In fact, almost everything but FIFA,
This is why even the biggest developers are saying terrifying things about the future of the industry. It's too expensive to make AAA games and investment doesn't guarantee success so in the absence of a better idea, the industry's latest plan is to just get out of the AAA single-player game market altogether and that's not such a bad plan when
It's hard to say how single-player AAA games are doing over on PC because so much of the market is controlled by Valve and they won't release sales figures, but smaller games at flexible price points do well in PC land.
PCs are better equipped for the next generation, which is actually the current generation, only console makers didn't notice. An open platform with appropriate price points set by the game's developers (even when that price is free) makes more sense than a Sony/Microsoft/Nintendo closed platform here in 2012 and will make even more sense in 2013.
Games aren't getting any cheaper to make and big blockbuster games are about to become what blockbuster movies have been since Jaws. You'll get five or six blockbusters every year from those privileged developers able to sell single-player action adventures - the Ubisofts, the Irrationals, the Naughty Dogs - and the rest of the release schedule will be filled by indies and smaller studios producing smaller games. And if you think about it for a while, that doesn't sound like such a bad thing.