Fashionably Late: Doom 3

doom-3-1

Regardless of the medium, sequels tend to put a creator between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, going back to the well on an established concept is less effort than starting over from scratch, and it’s also more lucrative from a commercial standpoint. 

On the other hand, a creator making a sequel has to walk a very thin line between iteration and innovation. If they don’t change enough between installments, fans and critics will bemoan the fact that the sequel is just more of the same, and wonder why the creator bothered. But if they change too much, then the fanbase will inevitably be divided, with some liking the new direction and others absolutely hating it.

This is more true in video games than perhaps in any other medium. Gamers, particularly today, are highly sensitive to rehashes, since several publishers (*coughEAcough*) have gotten into the habit of releasing annual installments of franchises with only a bare minimum of changes in between games, just enough so they can justify charging fans another $60. By the same token, there’s nothing fans of a game franchise hate more than a game that completely breaks with tradition, especially if it does so in a way that runs contrary to what came before.

So it’s not hard for me to appreciate the position that id Software found themselves in when it came time to make Doom 3. The first two Doom games were mega-hits that established an entire genre of games, and id had taken that ball and run with it when they made the Quake series, fleshing out gameplay mechanics and improving online multiplayer. Finally, ten years after the fact, id decided to make a third game in their most storied franchise.

However, a lot had changed in the course of a decade. John Romero, one of the lead designers of Doom, Doom II, Quake and Quake II had left id due to creative differences, and gone on to incinerate his career in the spectacular failure that was Daikatana. And the FPS genre itself had changed a great deal since the last Doom game. Series like System Shock, Half Life and Deus Ex had redefined the importance of plot to shooters, and System Shock and Half Life had been game-changers for how shooters handled horror elements. If Doom 3 were to remain completely faithful to the games that had come before, it would be viewed as dated and poorly-designed.

Yep, that sure was a good idea...

Yep, that sure was a good idea…

And moreover, this is Doom we’re talking about, the first new installment in the granddaddy of FPS franchises. If a new Doom game was coming down the pipe, it had to be revolutionary and show all these upstart whippersnappers how it was done…again.

So, id had a lot of people to please with this new game; they had to please fans of the original games, please people who had come to like a good story with their FPS, and show fans of both that they could make a game that scared them just as much as the original had back in 1993. And what they delivered was a game that tried to do all of that at once…but didn’t quite succeed at any of it.

Anyway, first things first; the version of the game I reviewed is Doom 3: BFG Edition for the PS3. BFG Edition is the not-quite-20th anniversary collection of the Doom franchise, and contains full versions of Doom (which I’ve already reviewed), Doom II, and remastered versions of Doom 3, its expansion Resurrection of Evil, and a new mini-campaign called The Lost Mission. The remaster features some gameplay and graphical tweaks that I’ll cover when I get to those segments, but is otherwise the same as the original game.

Despite being titled as a sequel, Doom 3 is actually a re-make of the original Doom, in the sense that it starts the series story over from the beginning. The premise is essentially the same; the player takes control of a nameless marine (“Doomguy”) as he arrives at the Mars station run by UAC, the Union Aerospace Corporation, for his first day on the job. All hell quickly (and literally) breaks loose while Doomguy is on a security assignment to a remote part of the base, and demons, pouring through a rift between dimensions caused by UAC’s teleportation experiments, begin killing everyone in sight and tearing the base apart. The player must fight his way through the station and ultimately try to stop the invasion at its source.

It's all fun and games until someone breaks out the sacrificial altars...

It’s all fun and games until someone breaks out the sacrificial altars…

The main difference here is that while in the original Doom the story existed purely as set-up for hours of blasting demons in the face, in Doom 3 the story takes center-stage, with cutscenes and voice-over advancing the plot in-game, and audio logs and e-mails found in PDAs scattered throughout the game environment that flesh out the backstory. While at first blush this seems like a good idea, the fact of the matter is Doom’s premise was always paper-thin, far too much so to support a full narrative, and it shows here. 

Doom 3’s plot revolves around weak, stock characters, plot “twists” so predictable they could be used to signal traffic, and dialogue so riddled with cliches I could, ironically, write it in my sleep. Normally I love stories in my games, but this is one of the few titles I’ve played where I’ve longed for the ability skip past the cutscenes on the first viewing (a feature disabled in the BFG Edition, for some inscrutable reason).

Even more problematic is the fact that, for much of the narrative, Doomguy really isn’t central to these proceedings. Much of Doom 3’s story unfolds through cutscenes for which Doomguy isn’t even present; the bulk of the plot revolves around a conflict between the demonically-possessed head of research, Dr. Malcolm Betruger, and a UAC troubleshooter named Swann and his bodyguard Campbell.

Betruger, AKA Dr. Evil.

Betruger, AKA Dr. Evil.

Both sides are blissfully unaware of Doomguy’s existence for the first act of the game until, at the behest of his C.O., Sgt. Kelly (who acts as the “disembodied radio voice who gives you orders” first popularized by System Shock 2), Doomguy either radios the UAC fleet for help or doesn’t (a “but thou must” false choice that makes no difference at all to the plot), at which point, both sides get pissy at him. This plot point doesn’t hold up on many levels, since:

  1. The game establishes that it takes a month to get from Earth to Mars and vice versa. While this is clearly much faster than what we can currently manage, unless the fleet is already hanging out in Mars orbit, they would never arrive in time to make a difference, so it makes no sense for Kelly to tell Doomguy to truck it all the way across the Mars station to make the call.
  2. Swann gets mad at Doomguy because he says that the fleet will provide an opportunity for the demons to get off Mars. This is a pretty strange assumption, since the demons have demonstrated they can teleport anywhere they please. Granted, Betruger confirms that Swann is right, but Swann had no way of knowing that when he went out of his way to stop the call from going out.
  3. Betruger, who is the one sending waves of demons out, obstructs Doomguy from making the call and from preventing the base’s reactor from blowing up (after it’s damaged during a firefight in a sequence directly stolen from Aliens), even though stopping these events runs directly counter to his stated interests.

Now, some of you might be wondering why I’m going out of my way to berate and nitpick the story of Doom 3 when I hand-waved it in Doom. If id had been content to make Doom 3 another pure action title, I probably wouldn’t. 

But the fact of the matter is, id themselves made the story a primary focus of the game. They were damned proud of this little tale they concocted. They even hired a professional sci-fi writer to help punch it up for them. I have rarely seen so much effort put into telling a story this poorly constructed and unnecessary.

I said "rarely," not "never."

I said “rarely,” not “never.”

But what about the gameplay? Well, here again the split focus of Doom 3 really hurts it. The design tries to incorporate both the run-and-gun action that Doom was beloved for, coupled with modern features like vertical aim, jumping, crouching, magazines, etc., and the claustrophobic, dark environs of a more horror-focused game. This results in a system that seems to want to encourage gunplay and fast-paced action, but has an environment too restrictive to do it in. 

The corridors are frequently too narrow to sidestep in, and the game lacks a proper cover system, so combat with monsters frequently devolves into trading shots with them until they die, gathering some of the abundant armor and health power-ups to mend your wounds, and moving on. This is in stark contrast with the original Doom, where the player had to be constantly moving and trying to dodge enemy attacks; enemies were far too strong to simply trade shots with them, especially in later levels. Doom 3’s pattern of trading blows is almost more reminiscent of a turn-based RPG than a pulse-pounding FPS.

As for the horror aspect, well, Doom 3 was apparently designed with the same concept of “horror” as most modern “scary” movies. Much of the Mars base (even before the demon invasion) is poorly lit, sometimes pitch black, to the point where the player can’t see much of anything without a flashlight. Basically, this design serves two purposes: to show off Doom 3’s then-cutting-edge lighting engine, and to set up jump scares.

Ahhh, zombies in the dark, omg so scary...Am I doing it right?

Ahhh, zombies in the dark, omg so scary…Am I doing it right?

Almost every monster encounter in Doom 3 is a jump scare. They teleport into an empty room to attack, come creeping out of crawlspaces, run out of hiding to shoot you or, most annoyingly, hide in closets near items, waiting for the player to come along and pick up ammo, body armor or a medkit, then pounce. It’s these last encounters that become really annoying, and the “monster closets” are a common complaint about the game. Granted, Doom and Doom II also had monster closets; I talked about them in my review of Doom. However, those were more forgivable, for a few reasons.

For one thing, the monster closets in Doom are much less frequent. They appear in a few locations in most levels of the game (I don’t think the first few levels have any, but my memory could be faulty). In Doom 3, monster closets comprise probably a third or a quarter of all monster encounters. 

Any time you go a little off the beaten path and find an item, it’s almost a guarantee that you will also find a monster closet. The frequency and predictability makes these jump scares lose their potency in record time, and exploring levels quickly becomes an exercise in frustrating tedium.

The other problem lies in Doom 3’s greater realism. Because of its simplistic design, it’s a lot easier for me to forgive a game like Doom for using such transparently game-like mechanics, because it’s obviously not trying to be even remotely realistic. Doom 3’s design becomes a victim of its own aspirations at seriousness and realism. When I encounter a monster closet in Doom 3, my thought process immediately tries to break the situation down logically:

Totally how it went down.

Totally how it went down.

Ooh, sweet, more body armor! Just what I needed! Let me just grab it and…OW! Eat lead, you cheap, backstabbing hellspawn!

Wait, where did that imp come from? I didn’t hear him teleport in…wait, that closet wasn’t open before. Was he just…hiding there in a broom closet? Waiting for someone to come along and pick up that armor so he could jump them? Why would he do that instead of running around the station killing everybody like all the other demons? Seems pretty inefficient. Wait, was this like some kind of demonic practical joke? Is there a camera? Have I been Punk’d?

That still doesn’t make any sense, though. Because this place is pretty isolated. I had to sneak through a crawlspace and past flaming gas pipes to reach it. It’s not exactly on the main drag. Just how long was he waiting here for some schmuck to truck it all the way here in search of body armor? It must have been a couple of hours, at least. Wouldn’t he get bored? What if he had to take a shit? Do demons even have to shit? I mean, they seem to eat people, so that has to come out somehow…

And thus I have gone from playing an exciting shooter to contemplating demonic gastroenterology. Somehow, I doubt that’s what the design team behind Doom 3 had in mind.

Maybe it was supposed to be an edutainment game?

Maybe it was supposed to be an edutainment game?

This emphasis on jump scare encounters and teleporting monsters also destroys any chance the game might have offered for players to make tactical decisions. You see, unlike in the original two Doom games, where the enemies loaded with the level itself and were present from the start, Doom 3’s greater emphasis on graphical fidelity means that the monsters don’t load in advance of you entering a room to conserve system resources.

In fact, even monsters that don’t teleport in and pop out of closets or behind doors apparently spawn in the dark, out of the player’s view, a fact I discovered for myself when I witnessed a demon materialize out of nowhere less than a foot away from me while going slightly off the game’s beaten path. And no, this was not a teleporting monster; there was none of the light and sound fanfare that accompanies demonic teleportation in this game. I just stepped behind a stack of crates into the shadows, and abruptly there was a Maggot sitting there two feet in front of me where before there had only been empty space. I wish I had been recording it, because words don’t do it justice. It was disappointing on every conceivable level, and smashed immersion in the face with an aluminum bat.

Because the monsters aren’t pre-loaded, the player can’t take any kind of pre-emptive action in the game. Want to throw a grenade into the room to clear out any monsters you think might be lying in wait? Too bad, they’re not there yet! Want to be smart and clear the corners of the room like you would in any other shooter? Too bad, the enemies won’t be there until you turn your back on them, making the whole exercise of proceeding with caution entirely pointless! Unlike the fast-paced strategizing demanded by the original games, Doom 3 values a player’s twitch reflexes and nothing else.

Additionally, the level maps in Doom 3 are all painfully linear. Unlike the enormous, sprawling non-linear mazes full of secrets and side-paths found in Doom 1 and 2, the levels in Doom 3 are almost universally a straight shot down a dark hallway to the end of the level. Oh sure, there’s the occasional side-path that’ll lead to items before it dead-ends and you have to return to the main corridor, and sometimes the game will make you backtrack slightly from the end of the path to reach the actual exit, but these diversions don’t change the fact that there is exactly one way to proceed through these stages, and one way to approach any enemy encounter; enter a room, wait for the monsters to spawn, shoot them fast, mend your wounds and armor, and move on.

Apparently Final Fantasy XIII didn't invent the hallway simulator genre after all.

Apparently Final Fantasy XIII didn’t invent the hallway simulator genre after all.

The monsters themselves are also pitifully stupid; they’ll either stand in one place and fire projectiles at you, or they charge in and attack you, making no effort to flank the player or take advantage of cover. It feels like they used the same monster AI from the original games without any sort of update over the intervening decade. 

The only reason enemy encounters are even slightly challenging is due their tendency to spawn behind the player and the confining corridors that keep the player from moving freely. A lack of situational awareness on the part of the player is a bigger threat than any demon in Doom 3.

One thing that hasn’t changed much since the original games is the array of weapons. The player has almost the exact same line-up of guns that were present in the previous two games. There are only three new additions (aside from the flashlight); the machine gun, the grenades, and the Soul Cube. 

The machine gun replaces the chain gun as the weak, rapid-fire gun of the game, and the chain gun instead becomes a heavy damage weapon; it’s fine, and you’ll use it a lot on weaker enemies in the first half of the game, but it’s nothing to write home about. The grenades are pretty much worthless; you have to equip them as a weapon, meaning you can’t mix it up with gun-and-grenade play, they bounce all over the place, and as I said before, you can’t throw them into a room to clear it, because the rooms will always be devoid of enemies until you enter them. I tried to use the grenades exactly once before I gave it up and stuck to regular firearms instead

Pictured: Worst FPS weapon since the Klobb.

Pictured: Worst FPS weapon since the Klobb.

The Soul Cube is actually kind of an interesting weapon; it’s new ultimate WMD of Doom 3, even trumping the returning BFG. It charges up as the player kills enemies, and once fired, it will seek out the most powerful enemy in the area and obliterate it, as well as doing massive splash damage to any nearby foes. It’s cool, but you also get it just before final level, so you have very few opportunities to play with it. 

This is depressing, since the player is forced to go through the first few hours of the game with no weapons available but the pistol, shotgun, machine gun and grenades (which, again, are useless). It’s incredibly tedious switching back and forth between the shotgun and machine gun over and over for the duration of these early segments; when the game actually relents and starts doling out new weapons on a fairly regular basis, it’s almost enough to make you forget how bland and brainless the combat actually is.

For the successor to the Granddaddy of the FPS, it’s hard to believe just how vanilla the combat in Doom 3 is. It feels so uninspired and incomplete. As much as id needed to come up with cool new ideas here, it also feels like they could have benefited from taking lessons from some of the other games that came since Doom 2

Alternate fire modes would have benefited the weapon variety immensely, and taking a page from Halo and giving the player melee and grenade attacks as standard actions would have helped with the pacing of combat. These weren’t new, revolutionary ideas by the time Doom 3 was in development; there was no good reason for the developers not to take advantage of them.

Ugh, I can't believe I just praised Halo. I have a sudden urge to chug a Mountain Dew and "victory crouch" on somebody...

Ugh, I can’t believe I just praised Halo. I have a sudden urge to chug a Mountain Dew and “victory crouch” on somebody…

So the game is a dud as far as action goes; what about horror? Well, monster closets are one of just three elements that Doom 3 has in its repertoire of scares. The others are darkness and spooky noises. The spooky noises are your typical creepy whispers, demonic snarls and banging that you might find in any moderately competent Halloween spook house. 

It’s fine, but there’s nothing here that I really haven’t seen before. As someone who has played games with genuinely creepy sound design (Silent Hill, Fatal Frame and Eternal Darkness all come to mind), Doom 3 is very “meh” on this front.

Even ignoring the fact that the sound design just isn’t very scary, it’s also just disappointing in general. Music is practically non-existent in the game, in favor of ambient “spooky” noises, a major disappointment when Doom’s soundtrack was so memorable and exciting. Even the sound effects for weapons are underwhelming in comparison to the first game; the guns make little “pew” and “pop” noises compared with the electronic snarls and subwoofer roars of the original game. It’s underwhelming, to say the least.

The darkness is a whole other ball of wax. From the minute Doomguy sets foot on the Mars base, the lights are malfunctioning. The audio logs and e-mails you find make it clear that this has been going on for a while as a result of the teleportation experiments, and the electrical systems of pretty much every section of the base are knocked offline when demons start teleporting in. Mostly, though, this is an excuse to plunge the base into darkness to give the developers the opportunity to set up jump-scares, and to introduce the flashlight mechanic.

Now, the flashlight mechanic comes in two flavors, depending on which version of the game you’re playing. In vanilla Doom 3, Doomguy only has a handheld flashlight, and the game treats the flashlight as a weapon, meaning that Doomguy can either have his flashlight out and see in front of him, or he can have his gun out and shoot things. He can’t do both at once. This is an incredibly frustrating mechanic on many levels (not to mention illogical and stupid on multiple levels), especially in a game that’s meant to be a fairly fast-paced shooter. The flashlight is one of the most polarizing aspects of Doom 3, and it’s why many people dislike the game, understandably so; other people defend this mechanic, saying it makes the game “scary.” If by “scary” they mean “annoying and frustrating,” then I agree with them.

Actually, that explains a lot about the Resident Evil fanbase.

Actually, that explains a lot about the Resident Evil fanbase.

Having heard all the criticism about the flashlight mechanic, the developers decided to fix it in Doom 3: BFG Edition…after a sense. Instead of the handheld flashlight, the developers gave Doomguy an armor-mounted, off-the-shoulder flashlight that can be used at the same time as the weapons. However, this poses a balance problem, seeing as the game was designed around the original flashlight mechanic, and the challenge of combat is dependent on the player not being able to shoot their gun at an enemy at the same time that they can see it. This helps compensate for the game’s limited and rather pitiful enemy AI; with an always-on light, the combat is broken in the player’s favor.

So the developers attempted to compromise by giving the player a flashlight that can be used at the same time as the game’s weapons…but only has about 30 seconds of battery life. Once the batteries are drained, the flashlight cuts out, and the battery has to automatically recharge. From a gameplay standpoint, this does help balance the flashlight out…but it makes even less sense than the notion that Doomguy can’t figure out how to tape a flashlight to his gun. What dumbass engineer decided that what the world needed was a flashlight that burns out every 30 seconds? What corporation decided to mass-produce it? Who at UAC decided to buy it and outfit all their marines with it? The longer I play Doom 3, the more it finds new ways to insult my intelligence.

Visually, Doom 3 is a hard game to judge. At the time, its graphics were revolutionary, and were definitely the first thing reviewers and players talked about with regards to the game. And for the most part its visuals hold up well in the BFG Edition; the textures are occasionally blurry, but the lighting is still impressive and the game runs at a buttery smooth 60 FPS, so even though the action is dull, at least it’s fluid. 

The demon models still look rather good as well, though I miss the colorful demons of the original games, far preferring them to the beige and gray monstrosities of this title. Time has not been as kind to the human character models, with their blocky builds and lumpy, polyhedral heads, but it feels unfair for me to pick on them since they were products of their time.

Roll Swann's head to see if you save versus boredom!

Roll Swann’s head to see if you save versus boredom!

As I’ve mentioned in my previous review of Doom, Doom 3’s online community is basically extinct as of the time of this writing. Over the course of several attempts, I only ever managed to find one match, and it was a team match where two far more experienced players ganged up on my and killed me almost instantly every time I spawned. And Doom 3 does not have a local multiplayer component, so I can’t give an honest opinion of the quality of the multiplayer mode. Suffice to say that, if you’re looking to slake your thirst for some intense deathmatch action, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

If it seems like I’m being abnormally vicious with this review, I can honestly say I didn’t go into this one with the intent of ripping Doom 3 a new one. I mean, who would? It’s a sequel in a beloved, storied franchise that left a huge impact on the games industry and the community of players. It has an average of over 80 points on Metacritic, for crying out loud! 

Who would expect that the game would turn out to be a tedious, bloated, overly linear slog with dull gameplay, an insultingly bad story, world-building elements that make no sense, inferior sound design and music to its predecessors, and an emphasis on graphics over game quality?

Wait…why does that sound so familiar?

Apparently Final Fantasy XIII didn't invent the hallway simulator genre after all.

Oh yes, I’m going there.

I didn’t just make that FFXIII reference earlier as a gag; I feel that Doom 3 and Final Fantasy XIII have a lot in common. They’re both sequels in a venerated franchise that went through tumultuous development cycles, underwent drastic changes over the course of their creation, and wound up as mediocre products in pretty wrapping that were overly lauded by the “professional” critics for said wrapping. And both are games so tedious, dull and insipid that I couldn’t be bothered to finish them.

Yes, you read that right. Doom 3 marks a first for Fashionably Late; it’s the first game I’ve written a review for that I did not finish. Or rather, I should say I didn’t complete the game; I’m certainly finished with it. I thought about forcing myself to complete the campaign and the expansions, reluctant to give up on the game and leave it uncompleted. I was unwilling to let the game “beat” me.

But then I really thought about it. The reason I started Fashionably Late was not only to create content for my website, and complete video games in my back log, it was to have fun. And I realized that, 7 hours into the campaign of Doom 3, I wasn’t having fun, and I hadn’t been since I started playing. 

The main campaign of Doom 3 is roughly 20 hours long, and that’s not including Resurrection of Evil or The Lost Mission. That’s a long time to do any activity, especially one you don’t enjoy. Supposedly the game gets better in a few more hours, but…well, I’ve heard that one before. It wasn’t enough to keep me playing FFXIII, and it’s not enough to keep me playing Doom 3.

Well, I definitely got enough out of my time playing Doom 3 to write a review and create some content for my site. And I’m not having fun with this game. So I’m going to call it quits. And I’m going to mark another first for Fashionably Late by telling you not to listen to the critics. Doom 3 is a bad game. 

More specifically, it’s the worst kind of bad game; it commits the ultimate sin that any piece of entertainment can. It’s boring. Don’t play it. Do get Doom and Doom II, and thankfully the recent, fourth Doom game brought the series back to its exciting roots, so check that one out, but skip this. Sartre once wrote that Hell is other people. I disagree; I think Hell is boredom. And if that’s true, then Doom 3 managed to get at least one thing right.

Can’t Stop the Signal

North Korea is scared of these guys, apparently.

North Korea is scared of these guys, apparently.

Recently, I sat down with some friends to watch The Interview, now that it’s made its debut on Netflix. It was surprisingly funny and much better than I had expected, and a great time was had by all, but I’m actually not writing this to review the film. The next day, reflecting on the experience, I realized that, if it hadn’t been for the cyberattack on Sony Pictures and the threats and controversy surrounding the film’s release, there’s an excellent chance I never would have heard of The Interview, much less watched it.

The Interview had virtually no buzz or advertising that I was aware of leading up to its release. If it hadn’t been for the controversy and outrage surrounding the suppression of the film, I almost certainly would have remained blissfully unaware, and I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of people who have now seen the film are in the same boat.

The film’s meteoric rise into public awareness was so impressive, I’d almost be tempted to accuse Sony of faking the hack to generate publicity, if the leaked documents didn’t serve to make Sony look so terrible.

The attack, allegedly perpetrated by North Korean agents (“allegedly” only because there isn’t ironclad proof that they did it, but really, who do they think they’re kidding?) was purportedly done to prevent The Interview’s release, and initially it looked like they had been successful in that goal. Sony caved and cancelled the film’s theatrical release, to the disbelief of just about everyone. For lack of a better expression, it looked like the terrorists had won.

But they didn’t. The outrage to Sony’s surrender was so palpable that on December 23rd, Sony caved again and released The Interview digitally. And the film went on to become Sony’s most successful digital release to date.

Ultimately, more people have seen The Interview than likely would have if these hackers did nothing at all, and North Korea, far from being seen as a world power to be feared, is being ridiculed for its Supreme Leader’s inability to take a damn joke. If the hackers’ goal was to prevent people from seeing Seth Rogen and James Franco besmirch the glorious name of Kim Jong Un, it’s hard to see how they could have failed much harder than they have.

Less than a month later, terrorists attacked the offices of satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo, wounding 11 and killing 11 more, in retaliation for its irreverent depictions of the Prophet Mohammad.

While I’m not about to compare Sony having embarrassing e-mails and early script drafts leaked to the deaths of 11 innocent civilians, again we have a group using brute force to silence comedians whose message they don’t like. And in the Charlie Hebdo case, the outcome is nearly identical.

Far from being cowed, the staff of Charlie Hebdo defiantly, triumphantly, returned to work, and their next issue sold seven million copies in six languages. People who had never even heard of Charlie Hebdo before (which I’m guessing is the majority of the non-French-speaking world) were buying copies.

The newspaper had become a household name world-wide. And far from being praised by fundamentalist Muslims for their actions, the attackers were condemned by the Ayatollah Khatami himself. Again, I’m pretty sure that’s about as far from success as these terrorists could get.

Time and again throughout human history, thugs who lack the wit or intelligence to retort when they’ve been mocked try to crush their detractors through force. And time and again, they have failed. Because their methods not only failed to refute what their detractors were saying, they became proof positive that everything that had been said about them was true.

It’s a lesson these particular thugs might have learned, if they had watched The Interview.

Fashionably Late: Bayonetta

Bayonetta 1

Technically, reviewing this game is almost a cheat on my part, since I’ve actually beaten Bayonetta before. Well, I’ve beaten one version of the game before; namely, the PS3 version.

Some of you just spontaneously groaned and facepalmed on reading that sentence. For the rest of you, a bit of explanation is in order.

You see, at the start of the 7th console generation, Sony bragged that the PS3’s Cell processor made it the most powerful console on the market. And on paper, this was true; the Cell was a beastly chip at the time it was released, and Sony achieved some impressive results with it in their first-party titles.

However, harnessing the Cell’s potential took a lot of time, effort, and coding wizardry, and on top of that, Sony’s documentation for the processor was apparently both badly translated and massive. By comparison, the Xbox 360’s Xenon processor, while ostensibly less powerful, was much easier to fully utilize.

Xenon was a pretty typical PowerPC chip, an architecture most developers were familiar with by that point. This meant that not only was the Xbox 360 easier to program for, it meant that programming for the PS3 and fully utilizing the Cell meant practically reprogramming the game from scratch, or the next best thing.

Third party developers releasing multi-platform titles had a decision to make. They could effectively build two completely different versions of the same game, using two different teams, when building one version that already cost millions of dollars. Or they could build their game for the Xbox 360 and brute-force code the game to run on the PS3 with minor modifications, albeit looking and performing noticeably worse than its 360 counterpart.

Another factor to be taken into account was that there were more 360s in peoples’ homes for most of the 7th generation than there were PS3s.

So guess which option third-party developers and publishers chose?

No worries. It's not like we paid a lot of money for the system or anything.

No worries. It’s not like we paid a lot of money for the system or anything.

Yep, brute force coding…

Platinum Games didn’t even work on the PS3 version. That was handled by a B-team at the game’s publisher, Sega, who had never worked on a PS3 game before. Even before the PS3 version released, it was apparently clear that there were problems since Sega requested (and received) staff from Sony to help finish the port.

The resulting port was a mess, with frame rates that frequently dropped well below 30 fps (I’ll explain why this is such an issue later), worse textures, even more screen-tearing than the 360 version (which has plenty to go around), and horrendous load times due to the PS3’s sluggish Blu-ray drive. This issue was resolved with a patch that installed large portions of the game to the PS3’s hard drive, an exploit that a lot of PS3 titles used to get load times under control. And because I only owned a PS3 when the game came out, this was the version I got.

In spite of all the technical issues, Bayonetta’s quality shined through, and it quickly became one of my favorite titles of the last generation. So, when the long-delayed, recently-resurrected sequel was released on the Wii U, along with a port of the original that promised to be the definitive version of the game, I jumped at the chance to play Bayonetta the way it was meant to be experienced. And I was not disappointed.

Bayonetta is a third-person action brawler developed by Platinum Games. Platinum, made up mostly of refugees from Clover Studio after Capcom bought them up and subsequently shut them down, have since made a name for themselves releasing frequently violent, over-the-top stylized action titles, not unlike Grasshopper Manufacture. And Bayonetta played a big part in cementing that reputation.

Oh, and like the last game I reviewed, Bayonetta is an M-rated title that makes the most of its rating. So, you know, be warned.

Groovy.

Groovy.

Bayonetta is, appropriately enough, about Bayonetta, a witch who is a survivor of a long-extinct clan called the Umbra. Bayonetta was sealed in a coffin, sunk at the bottom of a lake, and awoke prior to the events of the game with barely any memory of her past. All she remembers is that she’s a witch, she needs to kill angels on a regular basis to satisfy the various demons she has contracts with, and the secrets to her past involve a pair of gems called the Eyes of the World.

When one of her business contacts, a Mafia stooge named Enzo, gives her a tip that one of the Eyes is located in the isolationist, theocratic city of Vigrid, Bayonetta travels there in search of the truth, leaving a trail of maimed angels in her wake. Along the way, she must contend with Jeanne, another witch with ties to Bayonetta’s past; Luka, a journalist who blames Bayonetta for the murder of his father; and a little girl named Cereza who claims to be Bayonetta’s daughter.

Bayonetta’s world revolves around a Trinity of Realities–the Human World, our world; Paradiso, realm of the angels; and Inferno, realm of the demons. In between lies Purgatorio, a sort of parallel dimension to the Human World where the denizens of the three realities can mingle if they have the magic to do so.

Ages ago, two clans of magic-users oversaw the Trinity and maintained balance among the worlds; the Lumen Sages, aligned with the Light and the angels; and the Umbra Witches, aligned with the Dark and the demons. However, war broke out between the two sides and the Umbra were driven almost to extinction by witch hunts, orchestrated behind the scenes by the Sages, leaving Bayonetta as one of the few surviving Umbra.

If this description makes the game sound over-wrought and melodramatic, it’s really not. From start to finish, Bayonetta has its tongue planted firmly in its cheek, with hilariously over-the-top moments throughout the game, a wicked sense of humor and more references to other games than I can count. Hell, the game quite literally opens on one of the minor characters pissing on a gravestone bearing the name of the director, Hideki Kamiya. If that doesn’t tell you how seriously Bayonetta takes itself, I don’t know what will.

Bayonetta 10

Thought I was kidding? You should really know better by now.

That’s not to say the game is shallow; while the prospect of a game where a demonically-aligned witch butchers angels may sound like a high school goth’s fantasy, it’s actually a bit more complicated than that. Thematically, Bayonetta makes it clear that Light isn’t necessarily the same as good, and Darkness isn’t necessarily evil.

The angels of Bayonetta aren’t the beautiful creatures of Renaissance art; they’re much closer to how angels are actually described in the Bible: monstrous, inhuman creatures that look like something out of a nightmare. They come in a variety of forms, from eagle-headed winged humanoids to gryphon-like beasts to flaming wheels and cherub-faced giants. And they’re as prone to cruelty and violence as they are to benevolence; in short, they’re not creatures that you’ll feel bad for beating up, but rather monsters wearing a guise of holiness. Given the dark turns religion has taken throughout history, even modern history, I think that’s an idea that’s eminently relatable for most people.

Funny enough, for such a potentially controversial theme, the nature of Bayonetta and her antagonists hasn’t really drawn any controversy that I’m aware of. Rather, there’s another elephant in the room that I should probably address before continuing with the review–the game’s extremely overt sexuality.

Bayonetta is represented as an openly sexual character; she’s got a very dominatrix-like personality, using sexuality as a lure and a weapon, and gleefully tormenting and torturing her enemies in combat. She wears a skin-tight bodysuit which is made of her hair, the same hair she uses as a magical medium to summon demons from Inferno to attack her enemies. As a result, Bayonetta becomes partially or fully nude as she summons these attacks, though the more “explicit” regions of her anatomy are always obscured through camera tricks and carefully-placed swirls of spiraling hair.

Like so.

Like so.

This overt sexuality may make some players uncomfortable, and I can understand that. I think it’s important to be aware of this aspect of the game going in, and I’m not going to call anybody a prude for refusing to play it on those grounds. But what does bug me some is the controversy that’s come to surround the game and the character in recent years, namely the accusations that the game is exploitative and anti-feminist, and that Bayonetta is objectified.

This debate is interesting to me, because I don’t remember hearing much of this talk five years ago when Bayonetta was originally released, but it seemed to swirl around quite a bit with the recent release of the new edition and Bayonetta 2.

My personal theory is that ideas of feminism and sexual exploitation and objectification in games have come much more to the forefront of our minds. Recent ugly incidents like the #GamerGate affair and harassment of female game developers, feminists, and critics like Anita Sarkeesian have brought the issue more to the fore. People are now talking about these ideas with regard to gaming much more than they were before.

And don’t misunderstand me, I think that’s a very good thing. I think video games as a medium and the games industry both have serious, deep-seated issues with women and female characters that need to be addressed if we’re ever going to go forward as a medium, an industry and a fandom.

However, I do think that the sudden surge of reflection, introspection and examination has prompted overreaction on the part of a number of people. Rather than examining how a game portrays its female characters from a sexual standpoint, they take the position that any confluence of female characters and sexuality is a bad thing, and that’s simply not the case.

Female characters are sexually exploited and objectified when they are portrayed in a sexual manner that has nothing to do with who they are as characters. These are the characters whose sexuality is never addressed, but nevertheless are running around a battlefield in outfits that would make a stripper blush, or who pose provocatively apropos of nothing, or whose anatomy the camera visually fondles completely out of context with anything else that’s going on.

Like so.

Like so.

Bayonetta, on the other hand, is open, aware, and in charge of her sexuality. Any time she’s on display, fires off an innuendo-laden quip, or gets naked, it’s entirely of her own volition. She makes it clear that this is the case, and she’s clearly enjoying herself.

In short, Bayonetta is empowered by her sexuality as she’s portrayed in the games, not reduced by it, and is in fact elevated above other characters by it, including every single male character in the game. Nor is her sexuality her only character trait, or even her defining character trait. And her design, which has often been mistakenly identified as a male fantasy, was in fact created by a woman.

In short, Bayonetta is a female empowerment fantasy. I’m not saying that the solution to poor representation of women in video games is to make every character like Bayonetta  (that presents problems of its own), but she certainly isn’t an anti-feminist character.

In fact, I’m of the opinion that she’s one of the most pro-feminist characters in gaming to date, and the game is one of the few I’ve ever played that passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors. Now, whether you’re comfortable with the sexual focus of the game is another matter, but accusing it of being anti-feminist is just plain inaccurate.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk a bit more about the game itself.

Bayonetta, as I’ve mentioned, is an action brawler, so the gameplay revolves primarily around melee combat with groups of enemies. Each level in the game consists of a series of encounters with foes who must be defeated to advance. This could result in a very dull game if handled incorrectly, but Bayonetta’s combat gameplay is complex, rewarding, and punctuated by moments of sheer, awesome insanity.

Bayonetta has three primary means of fighting her enemies; punches, kicks, and guns. She can string chains of punches and kicks together to create combos, which not only do more damage than individual attacks, but also stagger enemies and keep them from recovering in between blows (though tougher enemies are much harder to stun). These combos can also culminate in Wicked Weaves, attacks where Bayonetta will conjure demonic fists, kicks and weapons to smash her foes for huge amounts of damage (and which result in the aforementioned partial nudity).

Of course demons wear stilettos. Why wouldn't they?

Of course demons wear stilettos. Why wouldn’t they?

By default, Bayonetta is armed with her bare hands and feet, as well as four pistols called the Scarborough Fair. She wields a gun in either hand, and two guns strapped to each shoe, which enables her to extend any punch or kick by holding down the attack button, resulting in a burst of gunfire (no idea how she pulls the trigger on a pistol strapped to a high heel, though). As the game progresses, Bayonetta can also recover Golden Angelic Hymn LPs, which she can trade with the game’s shopkeeper, Rodin, for a variety of new weapons, ranging from the fairly ordinary (katanas, whips and shotguns) to the downright bizarre (magical ice skates and grenade launcher tonfas).

These weapons, when equipped, will alter the properties of Bayonetta’s attacks in a number of ways, but most of her combos and the dynamics of extending attacks will remain the same. And whatever weapon she has equipped, Bayonetta can always shoot at her opponents with the press of a button; gunfire doesn’t do much damage on its own, but it’s great for extending combos and hitting foes that are just slightly out of reach until you can close the distance with them.

On the defensive, Bayonetta has a lot of movement options; she can lock the camera onto a foe and guard against their attacks, she can run around the battlefield freely, she can jump and double-jump to evade or follow an opponent into the air to continue an attack. But her single best defensive strategy, and probably the core defining mechanic of Bayonetta, is her ability to dodge.

With the press of a button, Bayonetta will somersault out of the way of an enemy attack, avoiding damage. It’s not difficult to dodge most attacks, but the real trick is waiting to dodge until the last possible instant before Bayonetta is hit by an attack. If you can manage that, Bayonetta will enter a state called Witch Time, where her enemies are either stopped in their tracks entirely or dramatically slowed down for several seconds. The opening provided by Witch Time allows Bayonetta to deliver some truly punishing combos to her helpless foes, and a feature called Dodge Offset allows Bayonetta to continue a combo she started prior to a successful dodge, enabling her to dish out even more pain.

Bayonetta, being a witch, also has other magical powers at her disposal. As she attacks her foes, her magic gauge will fill with power. Once full, Bayonetta can execute a Torture Attack on her opponents, an unblockable attack that will either kill an enemy outright, or deal massive damage to it. These Torture Attacks involve Bayonetta conjuring some sort of instrument of torture out of the blue and using it to savagely maim her foes, from Iron Maidens to guillotines to serrated pommel horses, and the attack animations include a mini-game that asks the player to hit a button as quickly as possible, awarding them with a bonus of Halos, the game’s currency, for a good performance.

This angel's about to have a very bad day. And several new holes.

This angel’s about to have a very bad day. And several new holes.

There are other uses for accumulated magic, mainly in the form of effects granted by magical talismans available for purchase from Rodin, but these items cost so many Halos it’s unlikely a player will be able to access them on their first playthrough of the game. Also, just as Bayonetta’s magic meter grows by hitting enemies, it depletes whenever she takes damage. Combined with the Witch Time mechanic, this results in a game that greatly rewards players for avoiding damage, and punishes them severely for getting hit, even beyond the risk of death (despite being a pretty tough lady, Bayonetta can’t actually take that many hits before it’s Game Over). Thus, having the game run at a high framerate isn’t merely a cosmetic concern, it’s a major factor in how well the game plays.

The rest of the gameplay mostly consists of moving from the stage of one enemy encounter to the next, but that’s not to say it’s filler. There are often branching paths and hidden areas in the environments that conceal items, upgrades and challenge rooms called “Alfheims,” where the player must defeat enemies under certain conditions (i.e., within a time limit, using only a certain number of punches or kicks, taking no damage) to win a prize.

The path is also sometimes obstructed by a platforming segment, or a basic puzzle that needs to be solved (such as assembling the pieces of a key to open a door, or using Witch Time to move through a gate before it closes), but the bread and butter of Bayonetta is the combat, and that’s as it should be. There are a few other level types to break up the variety, including a motorcycle chase with the theme from Afterburner in the background (why they didn’t use music from Outrun or Hang-On is beyond me), and a flying shooter level that’s one giant homage to Space Harrier. For the most part, however, Bayonetta sticks to what it’s good at; fast-paced, brutal combat.

On the subject of items, in addition to equipment, there are a number of consumable items that Bayonetta can acquire in her quest, either by finding them in the environment, purchasing them from Rodin, making them by combining Concoction ingredients (also found in the environment), or winning them in the shooting gallery-style “Angel Attack” mini-game that occurs after each level. These items can heal Bayonetta, restore her Magic,  temporarily boost her attack power, make her momentarily invincible, resurrect her from death, or deal damage to enemies. There are also permanent health and magic upgrades in the form of Witch Hearts and Moon Pearls, which can either be bought whole from Rodin, or assembled from pieces found in the environment or won in the Alfheims.

The game grades players on their performance, awarding them a medal after each encounter, ranging from Bronze to Platinum or Pure Platinum depending on how much damage they took, how many combos they performed, and how long the battle took. Each level is also given a grade, based on the player’s performance in each encounter, as well as how many times they died and were forced to continue, and how many items they used (each consumable item is worth half a death); the player’s overall grade drops one whole level per death, which not only affects the award they get, but also the bonus in Halos that is paid out at the end of the level, so if you’re a player wanting to unlock those expensive items in Rodin’s shop, you’ll have to learn the game’s mechanics inside and out to get those high scores.

You want statues like these, you gotta work for them.

You want statues like this, you gotta work for ’em.

The normal levels are also punctuated by levels consisting of boss fights with massive angels, the Cardinal Virtues. These battles are massive, multi-stage fights that will put a player’s skills to the test and featuring some spectacular moves and finishes that would put God of War to shame. Though ironically, these boss fights are often very easy to get good scores on, since much of the challenge of Bayonetta’s levels comes from running the gauntlet of multiple enemy encounters while avoiding damage. The bosses don’t provide nearly as much of an endurance test, with the exception of some of the later battles, which can be absolutely grueling.

On the subject of Bayonetta’s spectacle, many of the coolest things in the game happen in cutscenes and usually involve Bayonetta absolutely wrecking an enemy in some completely improbable and hilarious manner–or avoiding certain death with style. Many of these scenes are included as the capstone to a fight with a particularly difficult enemy, where Bayonetta initiates a “Climax” and summons a gigantic demon (one of the instances where she will be fully nude) in a manner that plays out similarly to a Torture Attack writ large (including the button-mashing mini-game).

However, this brings me to one of the few truly annoying parts of the game; the quick-time events. Many cutscenes in Bayonetta feature quick-time events, where the player must press a particular button at a particular time to avoid instant death. Quick-time events have a bad reputation among most gamers as being needlessly frustrating and unfair, and I have to say that, in most cases, Bayonetta’s QTEs fit this description to a T, especially since few of them utilize the controls in the same intuitive fashion as the rest of the game.

To the game’s credit, if you fail a QTE and die, the game will let you continue right before the event happens, so you can try as many times as you need to pass it. Unfortunately, the deaths suffered during QTEs count against your score at the end of the level, which is very, very frustrating when you’re trying for a high score, especially when you’ve been doing well at the actual gameplay.

Thankfully, Platinum seems to have learned from player feedback, and though QTEs do show up in subsequent games of theirs, they usually control in the same fashion that such an action would in the main gameplay (i.e., the button to punch punches, the jump button jumps, etc.), but it’s still an issue in this title.

There’s plenty of content to experience here, with several levels of difficulty, and much of the equipment only available to unlock after the first playthrough. If you enjoy Bayonetta, there’s certainly a lot for you to do beyond simply beating the game (which takes roughly 10 hours from start to finish, not counting re-tries from dying), though the challenge of the game might prevent a lot of people from reaching 100% completion.

Expect to see this screen. A lot.

Expect to see this screen. A lot.

Visually, the game is a treat to behold. As I’ve mentioned, the game’s cinematics are absolutely bonkers and perfectly encapsulate the over-the-top aesthetic behind the design. The characters are all well-designed and visually striking, as are the various monsters. The levels are all well laid-out and make for great environments to run around in; with a wide variety of settings ranging from old-world cities, to craggy mountains, to modern skyscrapers and even Heaven, you’ll rarely if ever get that “been there, done that” feeling.

I will say that, in terms of the environments, the game’s color palette is a little muted; funny enough, I never really realized this until playing the sequel, but the world of Bayonetta has a washed-out, sepia feel to it. This just makes the colorful cast and monsters stand out even more, so I’m inclined to think the designers did this on purpose, rather than simply copying the “brown is real” trend of early HD games. Still, it’s one of the biggest things that changed from Bayonetta to Bayonetta 2, so it’s worth pointing out.

The sound design is equally strong and eclectic. The music is an odd mix of J-Pop/Techno, slow jazz and very grandiose orchestral pieces (complete with God Choir) that somehow fits the game’s oddball tone perfectly. The game also has a kind of musical theme going on; Bayonetta’s signature guns are called the Scarborough Fair, after the folk ballad of the same name, and the flowers named in the song’s refrain (each gun being named after one of the four) all have thematic significance to Bayonetta’s character as the story progresses.

Also, the song “Fly Me To The Moon” is a recurring motif, with a J-Pop cover being used in many scenes, Bayonetta herself singing the song at points, and an early recording of the song (sung by Brenda Lee) that plays over the game’s credits. I’m not sure why this song was tapped, other than the fact that it seems to have some pop culture cachet in Japan (it was used as a closing theme for Neon Genesis Evangelion), but it does work rather well here…though if they wanted to use a tune popularized by Sinatra, I can’t believe they missed the opportunity to go with “Witchcraft.”

The sound effects and foley work are spot on, even for the most esoteric things (it can’t be easy to decide what the sound of an angel being crushed and impaled by an Iron Maiden must sound like), and the voice work is spectacular. The game’s cast of characters is fairly small (Bayonetta spends most of the game “between worlds” in Purgatorio, so she doesn’t encounter many people in person), but each one is perfectly cast and each performance makes the character memorable and props up the story, which might be a little weak otherwise.

The stand-out performance is definitely Hellena Taylor as Bayonetta. She carries the game with easy grace and really helps cement Bayonetta as a rounded character. Whether she’s purring a line like the cat that ate the canary, or displaying genuine shock, sadness or anger with surprising understated weight, it’s her show from start to finish and she makes the most of it. Other notables include veteran Grey DeLislie as rival witch Jeanne, Dave Fennoy as Rodin, and Yuri Lowenthal as intrepid journalist/wannabe ladies’ man Luka (in a rare instance of Lowenthal not playing a supremely punchable asshole).

Case in point.

Case in point.

The Wii U version also has a few additional features that weren’t available in the original game, aside from the improved graphics. There’s an optional touch and motion-based control scheme utilizing the Gamepad’s touchscreen and gyroscope for those who want it, but I haven’t yet tried it out, so I can’t speak to its quality.

Additionally, there are several included Nintendo-themed costumes that players can dress Bayonetta up in that alter the game in minor ways; they’re not game-changers, but they’re certainly fun extras. Also there’s an added Japanese language track (kind of an odd choice, given that the English vocal track predates the Japanese), but when the English vocals are this good, why bother?

Bayonetta is easily one of the best action titles released in the last 10 years. If you can get into the game’s over-the-top, graphic sense of style, there’s a great experience to be had, with tons of humor and challenging gameplay.

It’s not difficult to track down a used copy for the PS3 or 360 for relatively cheap (though again, I do not recommend the PS3 version). If you buy the Wii U version, you will get Bayonetta bundled for free with Bayonetta 2, and you can play both games for the price of one. It’s easily one of the best values in retail games right now, so if you have a Wii U (and if you don’t by this point, you should strongly consider it), this is definitely the option to take.

Well, I’ve been playing a lot of modern titles for a while, so I think it’s time I stepped back and went retro for my next review. Let’s go for a demonic trifecta…

Status Update

molemenn88

The rumors of my abduction by the Mole Men have been greatly exaggerated.

I realize it’s been a while since my last update on this blog, so I thought I’d take some time to update you all on things that have been going on and the current status of my various projects.

First, my team and I had our very first panel appearance at a con at the first annual Wizard World Tulsa Comic Con! We had a great turn-out for a first-time group and had a lot of fun waxing philosophical about superhero fiction and talking about the writing and independent publishing process.

Many thanks to Brittany Walloch and all the great staff at Wizard World for working with us and helping to make the panel possible, as well as Nate and Lacey for helping run the panel.

As for the status of upcoming projects, those of you who have been following my Facebook page are probably aware by now that we are planning to release a print version of The Astonishing Bobcat: Hero Worship in the near future. This has proven to be a bit more involved than previously anticipated, as my wife/manager/ombudsman and I have had to start up our own LLC for tax reasons prior to publication.

While this isn’t as complicated as one might fear, it’s definitely time-consuming, especially with my new, more rigid daytime work schedule, so the process is going a bit slower than anticipated. We still plan to have the print edition out in time for Christmas, so for those who have been waiting on a physical copy before taking the plunge, keep checking back here and on my Facebook page for a firm release date.

The next Bobcat adventure is still in progress; my work on writing it has been slowed down over the past few months by adjustments to a new job schedule, preparation for Wizard World and some minor health issues.

Still, the new book is underway, and we plan to release it sometime next year, as well as a new Bobcat short story. Keep an eye on this blog and on the Facebook page for more details, which will be announced as they’re available.

Finally, with regards to Fashionably Late, I know that I teased that Silent Hill 2 would be my next review, but unfortunately, I won’t be reviewing that game next. The simple reason for this is that Silent Hill 2 is an emotionally demanding, stressful game (intentionally, and in a good way), and with everything that’s been going on in my life lately, I simply don’t have much energy to spare on the completion of such a game.

I am continuing to progress and have actually made it further in the game than any previous playthrough attempt yet (I’m about to enter the Otherworld Hospital, for those who are curious), and I will do a write up once I’ve finished it, but for now I’m going to focus on other titles.

I actually have another game lined up already, and it’s one that, thematically at least, is probably a more fitting follow-up to Shadows of the Damned than SH2 would have been, anyway. Keep an eye out for that review in the next week.

Thank you very much for your readership and support, and I wish a Happy Thanksgiving to you and all your loved ones. I’ll see you soon with another update!

Collateral Damage

Homeless Vet

Last week, as my mother and I were looking through a family photo album, she pointed out a picture of my great-grandfather in his military dress. I had always known he served in World War I, but that day I found out just how much his service cost him and his family.

After the war, because of the traumas he experienced on the battlefield, he suffered from life-long Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. My great-grandmother supported their family as a seamstress; her husband couldn’t hold down a job due to severe and chronic alcoholism. His illness and the way he attempted to cope with it overshadowed the rest of his life.

This kind of story was, and still is, all too common among veterans returning from active duty. In my great-grandfather’s day, it was called shellshock, and was frequently attributed to a “lack of moral fiber,” which was a military euphemism for “it’s your problem, not ours.” Today, we understand what Post-traumatic Stress Disorder is; psychologists have identified the causes, the symptoms, and even outlined effective treatments for it.

So why, then, are we still seeing so many soldiers needlessly suffering from PTSD? Why are we still seeing so many veterans becoming homeless after they are unable to re-acclimate to civilian life? Why are we still seeing horrific incidents like the murder-suicide committed by an Iraq war vet last Thursday? Why are more veterans dying from suicide than in combat? Why are there still so many veterans suffering silently, self-medicating, and just managing to get by the way my great-grandfather did?

Well, for one thing, while our government talks a good game about “supporting the troops,” it’s shown that political interest in “the troops” ends as soon as their deployment does. For a very long time, while Congress was quite happy to write check after check to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to the tune of trillions of dollars, they were much more reluctant to fund the Department of Veterans Affairs and other programs that would help veterans returning from combat.

Recently members of Congress have introduced bills intended to direct more funding to help veterans, but predictably these bills have been caught in the gridlock of the least productive Congress in history, so I wouldn’t count on those agencies receiving more funding anytime soon.

However, Congressional double-talk and inefficiency isn’t the cause of this issue, but rather another symptom. The root cause is that, despite all the progress made in the field of psychology in identifying, analyzing and treating PTSD, societal perception of the problem doesn’t seem to have progressed very far beyond the “lack of moral fiber” days that my great-grandfather suffered through.

Mental illnesses like PTSD and clinical depression aren’t viewed in the same light as physical illnesses like influenza or cancer. They’re viewed, to a large extent, as a personal flaw, a character weakness, and stigmatized as such.

This problem is further exacerbated by the fact that most veterans are men, and men in our society are taught from a very young age that expressing discomfort or pain is a sign of weakness and femininity. This belief is especially reinforced by the internal culture of the military, where raw recruits who conform to the norms of modern society, where violence and killing are strictly verboten, are turned into soldiers who must be ready to follow orders without question and kill at a moment’s notice.

Is it any wonder, then, that these veterans, rather than seeking help for their condition, try to ignore the problem and stifle their feelings until it ends in tragedy?

Recently, Harry Potter actress Emma Watson, now the Goodwill Ambassador for U.N. Women, gave a speech announcing a new campaign for gender equality called HeForShe. In this speech, Watson discusses how the issue of “women’s rights” is, in fact, an issue of human rights that affects men equally.

“I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness, unable to ask for help for fear it would make them less of a man…I’ve seen men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success.”

On hearing her words, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my great-grandfather, who suffered his whole life because his pain was considered an un-manly weakness, rather than the natural consequence of sending a young man to kill in the name of his government.

They made me think of how his pain must have affected my grandmother, in turn affecting her children, and in turn affecting my brother and me. It is a pain that echoes down through generations, simply because society told him that as a man, he couldn’t seek help.

Something’s got to give, people. Because if I have sons, I don’t want them to grow up in a world where they’re called weak for seeking help, any more than I want daughters growing up in a world where they’re told they can’t be strong. We have to speak up. We have to make a change, for our children, and our children’s children.

If not now, then when?

“Dear Boss,”

Aaron Kosminski

On Sunday, September 7th, news broke that caused a stir world-wide; Jack the Ripper, the notorious serial killer who terrorized London over a hundred years ago, had finally been identified as Aaron Kosminski, a hairdresser with schizophrenia who died in a mental asylum several years after the Ripper murders had ceased.

After years of fruitless police investigation and still more years of amateur, enthusiast detectives (affectionately referred to as “Ripperologists”) painstakingly researching the case, the Ripper finally stood unmasked, thanks to the brilliant detective work of Mr. Russell Edwards. Edwards, who purchased a shawl at auction that belonged to the fourth “canonical” victim, Catherine Eddowes, had the garment examined for DNA, and found seminal DNA linking Aaron Kosminski to the shawl. Case closed!

Or not.

Not even two days after the announcement, Ripperologists around the world weren’t so much poking holes in Edwards’ theory as they were driving semi-trucks through it.

The shawl has been known about for years but never conclusively linked to Eddowes except by a “family tradition” that makes less logical sense than Edwards’ argument itself. The DNA evidence is inconclusive at best; it’s mitochondrial DNA, which only proves that it came from a member of a large group of people to which Kosminski belonged, and that’s leaving out issues of contamination, the experimental method used to extract the sample, and the fact that previous DNA testing on the shawl failed to yield any results.

And then there’s Edwards himself, who owns and operates a Jack the Ripper souvenir shop in London, guides Jack the Ripper-themed tours, and made the announcement of his discovery just days before the release of his book Naming Jack the Ripper, detailing his theory about Kosminski. Put all that together, and it paints a pretty clear picture of a man parlaying a specious theory into a book to make money off of a dubious piece of “Ripperana” he bought at auction the better part of a decade ago.

And yet, despite the clear problems with the theory and how quickly after the announcement the counter-arguments have come out, there is still a large contingent of people who believe Edwards’ claims. The Jack the Ripper Wikipedia page, at the time of the announcement, was locked from editing for several days in an attempt to protect the information from an editing war that began almost as soon as the announcement was made. Even Casebook.org, the Ripperologist website that has led the effort to debunk Edwards’ claims, has a growing contingent of forum members who believe that Edwards has conclusively proved Kosminski to be the Ripper.

This is far from the first time a wild theory about the identity of Jack the Ripper has captured people’s imaginations, and it most likely won’t be the last, but it is a valuable, unfolding example of the power that the printed word has over the human mind.

When a “fact” is put into print from a source with some degree of authority, be it a book publisher, a newspaper or website or even an e-mail from a trusted friend, people are inclined to believe it, oftentimes without looking further into the matter or even reading beyond the headline. This means that many people never attempt to follow a story further and determine if it’s been retracted or corrected, not that it seems to matter either way, since misinformation continues to affect the brain long after correct information has been learned. So, regardless of how flawed his theory is, Edwards’ assertion that Kosminski is the Ripper will continue to be viewed as “fact” by a large percentage of the population.

And admittedly, in the grand scheme of things, Edwards’ claims won’t do that much damage. After all, he’s accusing a dead man (who was already considered a Ripper suspect) of committing murders that happened over a century ago. Even Kosminski’s family likely doesn’t remember much about him, given that he had no children and died alone in a Victorian mental institution.

But this undying quality of false information can be greatly damaging to society in other contexts. Thanks to a disproven study claiming that autism is caused by vaccinations, we’re seeing a resurgence of diseases like Rubella and Whooping Cough that were all but extinct as frightened parents cling to the old (mis)information and refuse to vaccinate their babies. Another (falsified) study led to millions of women undergoing post-menopausal hormone replacement therapy to protect themselves from cancer…a process that cost US citizens billions of dollars and may have actually increased cancer risks…and a process that is still widely advocated and available despite proof that it does more harm than good.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. How about big business-funded studies to disprove climate change and justify industrial pollution? Or a misleading documentary that shut down a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting people from losing their homes to predatory mortgage lending? Or an infamous experiment that used doctored data to prove that we’re one issued order away from being the next Josef Mengele, thus re-shaping the entire field of psychology for the better part of a century? I could go on and on.

The bottom line is, our society has been shaped and damaged by false claims that continued to persist long after they were disproven, simply because it’s a hundred times harder to dispel a lie than it is to tell one in the first place. So while Edwards’ “little white lie” isn’t likely to do much damage in the grand scheme of things, the practice of abusing the authority of publication to advance one’s own selfish interests has done untold amounts of harm.

As such, every writer, reporter, documentarian and scientist has a duty to think beyond the moment, to consider what the consequences of our actions will be, and to examine the claims we are making for as long as it takes to verify them before unleashing them on the world. To do any less is unethical and irresponsible at best, and malicious at worst.

(Constantly) Great Expectations

be kind

Regrettably, Robin Williams took his own life on August 11, 2014.

Williams was one of the most prolific actors and comedians of his generation, and his body of work speaks for itself, so I won’t damn the man with faint praise by attempting to eulogize him.

Looking around online at the moment, all I can find are articles singing Robin Williams’ praises. Yet, a similar search just a few months ago would have yielded very different results. While Williams proved himself as a brilliant performer several times over–both in comedy and drama–in recent years he had chosen to work on films that weren’t very well received.

Indeed, looking at Williams’ page on RottenTomatoes, he’s been in 29 films in the last 10 years, only 10 of which currently have a “fresh” rating on the site. And the public’s perception of Williams seemed to have shifted to reflect this.

Now understand, I’m not bringing this up to speak ill of the deceased, but rather to make a point. Many people seemed to regard Williams as a has-been, and treated him rather harshly when discussing his career trajectory. It’s only now, since Williams’ passing, that suddenly everybody seems to remember all his good work and sing his praises once again.

Really, this has nothing to do with Robin Williams, and everything to do with his audience, because I can name numerous actors that this has happened with. Eddie Murphy, Steve Martin and Chris Rock have all been taking heat from fans for the shift in their output from the comedy that made them famous to safe, family-friendly films. 

And even actors whose quality of work hasn’t diminished have fallen out of favor for incidents that have tarnished their public persona, such as Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson.

But I would bet any amount of money that as soon as any one of those actors passes away, there will be an immense outpouring from grieving fans remembering their past accomplishments. Suddenly, people who had taken these performers for granted will realize that they miss them.

So, if that’s the case, why can’t fans simply appreciate these performers now? Why wait? Why waste energy lamenting a favorite artist’s career trajectory, instead of appreciating the great work they’ve made in the past, and in many cases, continue to make now?

I realize society has always had a paradoxical relationship with celebrities; we elevate them to an exalted status, only to try and tear them down the moment they show any sign of human weakness and fail to live up to expectations. 

But from the outpouring of grief, support and remembrance surrounding Williams’ death, it’s obvious that underlying all of that antipathy lies a great deal of admiration, love and respect. After all, if we didn’t like what that performer or artist was doing, why did we elevate them to celebrity status in the first place?

Fixating on the foibles and flaws of great artists, especially to the exclusion of the enjoyment of their body of work, is a waste of mental energy and does nothing but harm the fan who does so. 

So for my part, I’m going to make a concerted effort to accept that nobody’s perfect, regardless of how much success they attain. I’m going to remind myself that artists, no matter their status, can make a piece (or a few) that are just not my bag. After all, as a author, I hope the same freedom will be afforded me one day.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Williams. And thank you for sharing so much with us.

 

Writing: A Team Effort

A booth with a view.

A booth with a view.

Two weekends ago I attended Tokyo in Tulsa to promote my novel, The Astonishing Bobcat: Hero Worship! It was a busy three days–my first con appearance–and I was happy to meet many people and talk about the book with them.

I’ve been writing for nearly 20 years now, but promoting a book is something entirely different, so this was a brand new experience for me. I was excited to see so much interest and excitement about my work. I left the con feeling energized and excited about reaching out to new readers and continuing the Bobcat series as a whole!

However, the con wasn’t all about handing out promo material and making pitches. I was able to get away from the table long enough to attend some panels on writing and publishing. 

These presentations were hosted by RPG writer Stephen Radney-McFarland, anime ADR director, voice actor and adaptive screenwriter Terri Doty, publisher Carlos Moreno of Falkor Publishing, and Falkor’s newest published author, Steven Mix, writer of the zombie apocalypse novel Goodbye from the Edge of Never (buy it here!). There were laughs, excitement, insight into all kinds of facets of writing across multiple industries. All in all, it was a great time.

But between working the Bobcat booth with my wife/manager Okcate, our cover artist Tallulah and my brother Jacob, and listening to what Stephen, Steven, Terri and Carlos had to say, I came to a realization about writing, and it’s one that I’m not sure most people get. 

When we hear the word “writer,” most of us probably have the same image; some lone, iconoclastic figure, sitting at a desk, scribbling away with a pen or tapping at a typewriter or a word processor. We picture Edgar Allen Poe or Stephen King pouring their tortured souls out onto the page all by themselves, or J.D. Salinger alone in his house, writing reams for himself and nobody else.

Whoever pops into your head, they probably have one thing in common; much like every hard-boiled detective ever written, they work alone. The writer as a popular figure is envisioned as somebody who shapes people and worlds in isolation on their own, with nobody to help them. 

And at Tokyo in Tulsa, I learned that image could not be more wrong.

Now, I’ve worked with my team for some time now, but TnT taught me just how many people it takes, putting in hours of time and effort, to see a story through to publication. No book you have ever read made it straight into your hands directly from only the writer. It went through editors, likely several of them, poring over the text, looking for problems with grammar, syntax and (if the writer/publisher are doing their jobs right) continuity and story. 

The layout, design, and cover art were provided by people who specialize in making books look just right. Promoters and advertisers tirelessly worked their butts off to help the author get the word out, and make you, the reader, aware that there was a book available for purchase in the first place.

While a writer may create the content, he relies on other people to mold it, to refine it to its purest form, and to dress it up and make it presentable for the general public. In other words, a writer needs a team to help make his work the best it can be. And perhaps more importantly, he needs readers to appreciate it.

So, thank you to Okcate, Tallulah and Jacob for all your help at the convention, and everything else you’ve done to make The Astonishing Bobcat: Hero Worship into something worth reading. And thank you to everybody who stopped by our booth to talk us; I hope you enjoy the book.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I’d better get back to work. After all, I have a team I don’t want to let down.

 

Hero Worship at Tokyo in Tulsa

cropped-Chicago-Skyline3.jpg

A little less than a year ago, I debuted The Astonishing Bobcat: Hero Worship to my first live audience and reflected on what an experience that was. After doing some more appearances since then–some planned, some on the fly, (note to authors: keep a digital copy of your work accessible on your smartphone; you never know when a spot at a showcase will open up) I have actually begun to dig the whole public reading thing.

As of today, I am looking forward to my very first con appearance at Tokyo in Tulsa in July, 2014. I’ll not only be talking about the current novel, but I’ll also have news about the soon-to-be released second book. Please come by my booth and support me as I step into another role–promotor. I’ll be the brand new author sweating bullets. See you there!

Post-E3 Reflections 2014

It’s E3 time! Again…

Last year, I wrote my first real post to my blog about my thoughts on E3 2013. Since E3 continues to have significance as a kind of holiday among video game fans, and since this month marks the one-year anniversary of my blog, I thought I’d talk about my thoughts on this year’s E3 conference.

To avoid rambling like last year (first blog post and all) I’ll go over each of the major conferences in chronological order, talk about anything I found noteworthy (or not), and then I’ll close out with a summary of my thoughts. Let’s dive right in:

Microsoft: 

While I haven’t made a secret of the fact that Microsoft drove me away as a fan about halfway through the Xbox 360’s tenure, and I have no plans to ever buy an Xbox One, I will try to be objective here and talk about what I thought was intriguing and what wasn’t, instead of just writing the whole conference off.

First off, I have to give Microsoft credit for covering games and only games at their E3 presser.  This decision alone made it one of the best conferences they’ve had in years. Their fumbling attempts to rope in both casual players and enthusiasts with their presentations for the last few years has led to some absolutely painful, boring conferences, and I’m glad they decided to stick with things that the crowd who actually tunes into these conferences will be interested in.

And Microsoft featured a few games that actually did pique my interest. Sunset Overdrive, the latest game from Sony alum Insomniac, looks colorful, bombastic and exciting. It’s a nice change of pace from their last outing, Fuse, where they let the pressure of industry trends turn what could have been a unique shooter with a lot of personality into something incredibly generic, and stylistically it’s like nothing else on Xbox at present.

Additionally, Microsoft had one of the biggest surprises at the show (at least for me), when they announced a sequel/remake to Phantom Dust, the original Xbox exclusive arena fighter/CCG. They only showed a CGI cutscene teaser for it (I’ll talk more about this later), but the fact that they’re even releasing a new game in the franchise is kind of amazing in this day and age, since the original Phantom Dust’s sales were…underwhelming, to be kind.

They also announced an exclusive game from one of my favorite studios, Platinum Games, called Scalebound. Again, another CGI trailer with no gameplay whatsoever, but I’m kind of surprised that Microsoft would reach out to Platinum for an exclusive; as much as I love Platinum’s games, they certainly aren’t system-sellers for most people and outside of a loyal cult following, they tend not to sell that well, especially among Xbox die-hards.

And that’s it for the positives. For the rest of what got featured at Microsoft’s conference, my response was “don’t care” or “I can get it on another platform.” This is the primary reason I gave up on Xbox; there just isn’t enough there that interests me to warrant a purchase, and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change anytime soon.

Ubisoft:

Ubisoft had exactly one game to show that I cared about: Valiant Hearts: The Great War. It’s a 2D adventure game, similar in mechanics to Double Fine’s recent title The Cave and animated in a storybook style using the UbiArt engine that powers Rayman Legends. It purports to tell the story of five individuals who save the life of a soldier in World War I, supposedly based on actual letters from these people sent during the war.

Ordinarily I detest war games. As someone who comes from a long line of veterans, I find it offensive to turn actual war into a perpetual toy for people to play soldier with online. I don’t even like war movies (with very few exceptions) for similar reasons. But Valiant Hearts looks to be taking a different approach and telling a meaningful, heart-felt story about the war in an artistically tasteful way, not unlike how Art Spiegelman’s Maus tells the story of the Holocaust through cartoon analogues of mice, cats and pigs. So Valiant Hearts is one title I’ll be watching with great interest.

Everything else was boring to me: sequels to franchises I’m not interested in, new IPs that I equally don’t care about (most of which were featured at Sony and Microsoft’s conferences anyway), fitness and dance games. In other words, typical Ubisoft. 

EA:

Given EA’s track record of late, anything positive I have to say in this segment comes with the unstated caveat of “…if they don’t mess it up.” So just bear that in mind.

That said, there were a few games in EA’s conference that did interest me. The first is Battlefield: Hardline, which uses the Battlefield 4 engine to make a cops-and-robbers tactical shooter. As much as I detest war shooters and movies, I’m actually a big fan of heist films and cop films and the few games that have attempted to utilize that kind of setting, so this is one Battlefield title I might be interested in picking up…after I’m sure that the online is working correctly.

Second is a new Mirror’s Edge game. Now, I still need to play the original Mirror’s Edge, but I was intrigued by the first-person parkour title when it came out, and the sequel (what they showed of it) looks to be in much the same vein. When I get around to trying out the original game, I might give Mirror’s Edge 2 a shot if I like what I see.

Finally, there’s the new Dragon Age game, Dragon Age: Inquisition. I loved the first Dragon Age, and I own and have played (but not beaten) its divisive sequel. I’ve been a big fan of BioWare’s work since Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic on the original Xbox, but I’ve noticed that their work seems to have declined in quality or at least shown more problems since EA bought them out. So, I’ll be approaching this one with caution.

As for the rest, it was just sports games and sequels to franchises that aren’t up my alley. 

Sony:

Aside from their decision to showcase Playstation-exclusive TV and movie stuff, Sony’s conference was very similar to Microsoft’s; a few games I’d like to play, a lot that I probably won’t  or that are going to be available elsewhere. Having said that, there were definitely some games at the Sony conference that caught my attention.

First, Sony announced a new stand-alone DLC for Infamous: Second Son, sort of like what they did with Infamous: Festival of Blood a few years ago. I think that’s a cool idea. If/when I get a PS4, I’ll definitely be picking up Second Son and downloading this DLC. Not much else to say on that front.

Second is LittleBigPlanet 3. I like the first two LBP titles, and this new game looks to be pretty cool, adding new characters with new abilities and promising to port over all the user-created levels from LBP 1 and 2 with improved visuals…though the visuals are one thing that left me kind of scratching my head. I’ve complained before that a lot of the games for the PS4 and Xbone look like they could have been achieved on the PS3 and 360 with a minimal downgrade in visuals, but this is especially true for LBP 3. It looks almost identical to LBP 2, and really does nothing to justify the new hardware. I know LBP has never been a visual showcase, but it’s such a transparent move to sell more PS4s that I can’t help but roll my eyes at it.

Third is a new game from gonzo action game developer Suda51, titled Let It Die, which is going to be exclusive to PS4. It was just a teaser trailer that showed no gameplay, but I’m a fan of Suda51’s work, so on one hand, I’m definitely intrigued by this one…on the other hand, it’s since been revealed that the game is going to be both always online and “free to play,” which are major no-nos for me in a console title, so I’m very much on the fence.

Fourth is a title called No Man’s Sky, a “procedurally-generated” space exploration game that’s supposed to create new content as players explore the game’s universe. I’ve heard this kind of hype before from games like Spore, so I’m more than a little skeptical, but the footage they showed did look very nice. I’ll be interested to learn more about this one as it comes out.

Finally, there was a teaser trailer for Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. I’m a big fan of the Uncharted series (in fact, I’m sitting next to a curio cabinet holding my limited edition Nathan Drake figurine as I write this), but this was just a CGI teaser trailer and showed no gameplay footage whatsoever. Beyond showing that Uncharted 4 is on-track for a 2015 release, there really isn’t much more to say about this one.

As for the rest of what Sony showed, it was all either third-party titles that will be available elsewhere, new IPs that don’t interest me (The Order: 1886 comes to mind) or CGI teasers that didn’t do anything other than announce the fact that a game was in development. 

Nintendo:

As you may know, I’m definitely a Nintendo fan, and the Wii U is the only 8th generation console I currently own. Having said that, I think Nintendo had, hands-down, the best presentation of all three console makers at this year’s E3.

There was no plugging of third-party titles with exclusive DLC, no talk about TV shows or movies, just tons of exclusive games and content, coupled with great, funny presentation, including sketches by the creators of Robot Chicken and a Matrix-esque kung fu battle between Nintendo President Satoru Iwata and Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime. If you like Nintendo at all and you haven’t seen it yet, clear thirty minutes or so from your schedule and give it a watch. I promise you it’s worth your time.

There was new footage and information on previously announced titles, including Hyrule Warriors, the newly-christened Yoshi’s Wooly World, new Smash Bros info, the Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire remakes, Xenoblade Chronicles X and Bayonetta 2 (which will ship with Bayonetta 1 on the same disc). And there were a ton of surprise announcements, including a new game based on the Captain Toad levels from Super Mario 3D World, a stunning first look at the upcoming Legend of Zelda game, a sequel to Kirby: Canvas Curse for the Wii U, a Mario level-creation game, and a brand-new third-person shooter called Splatoon that looks pretty exciting.

Nintendo also unveiled their previously-discussed NFC figurine toys, which they’re calling “amiibo.” These are little figurines of Nintendo characters that, similar to Skylanders toys, when brought into contact with the Wii U Gamepad’s NFC reader (or an upcoming NFC peripheral for 3DS), will enter that character into the game and allow it to interact with the game and player in unique ways. Amiibo is going to be supported by a number of titles, the first of which will be Super Smash Bros, which will launch along with the figurines. I’m not sure how much I, as a 29-year-old man, will get out of this new toy line, but it’s pretty cool-looking and I’m sure it’ll print money for Nintendo, which is something they really need right now.

Final Thoughts:

All in all, I’d say this year’s E3 was a lot more encouraging than last year’s. I’m significantly less disillusioned about the state of the game industry than I was a year ago.

That being said, this year’s conference brought into sharp focus some trends in the gaming industry that simply need to die. I’m sick of console-makers, rather than producing their own content, claiming third-party titles on the grounds of temporary exclusivity or exclusive DLC or early betas just so they can pad out their presentations. Likewise, I’m also tired of CGI teaser trailers that tell us nothing about the game itself and show no actual gameplay; every conference except for Nintendo’s was rife with teaser trailers like this, and it was a massive waste of the audience’s time.

Additionally, and this is more directed at Sony, the increased emphasis on “free-to-play” titles at major E3 conferences over the last few years is disquieting. F2P is a dangerous business model; for every game that does it right, there are ten games that become “pay to win” or “free to play…for 5 minutes unless you pay us.” It’s also a model that console owners don’t historically respond well to, so if these platform holders aren’t careful, they could wind up alienating the very people who keep them in business.

Finally, and this is probably going to make me sound like an old man, I buy game consoles to play games. I don’t buy them to watch TV or movies, and I certainly don’t buy them so I can watch a particular show that’s exclusive to that platform. Maybe those kind of tactics play with a wider audience, but those aren’t the people who are going to tune in to watch an E3 conference. So Sony, Microsoft, please just give it a rest with the TV shows and spend that time talking about games, because your TV shows and movies aren’t going to convince anybody to spend $400+ on one of your consoles.

…Unless you’re planning to make 6 more seasons of Firefly. Then we can talk.