Sony has announced what games PlayStation Plus subscribers will be able to download for free in the month of September.
The recent news of Sony abandoning The Last Guardian trademark had left many incredulous, and wondering if the long-gestating Team ICO project was finally canceled. Of course, Sony quickly dispelled those rumors stating that the game, which has been in development since at least 2009, is still indeed being worked on. This further suggests that The Last Guardian as folks know it, thanks to the infamous 4 minute E3 trailer, no longer exists but is, what should be obvious to most, taking on a completely different form. But, after nearly six years of silence and false hope, should people even care anymore?
Perhaps the easier question to answer is: Why have people cared so much about it in the first place? Well, the development team that’s behind The Last Guardian, the previously mentioned Team ICO, is something of a crown jewel within Sony’s Japanese first-party studios thanks to the developer’s impressive first two outings: ICO, and the much revered Shadow of the Colossus. Both titles took on a life grander than video games, they were the first evident examples of how games can be much more than just jumping on virtual enemies, and saving a princess that the player never really cared for from the start. Team ICO was able to deliver somber, quaint, and deliciously peculiar experiences that bravely avoided mundane, and cliché game design and narrative beats. They were, and still are the most effective pieces of art within the games medium.
In ICO, the player is solely tasked with looking after a princess, of whom you know nothing about, as a young boy with horns on his head. Apart from the opening cut scene, which subtlety implies that the young boy has been excommunicated by his people and locked up for, perhaps, his unusual physical appearance, there’s no other exposition, spoken dialogue, or cut scene for the rest of the game. ICO is eerily quiet, prides itself with its atmosphere, and devoid of any substantial combat or gameplay apart from solving platforming puzzles.
Fast-forward a few years later, and Team ICO delivered arguably one of the finest video games ever made: Shadow of the Colossus. The game is quite similar to Ico with its design, as it is also atmospheric, touching, somber, and mechanically simplistic. But, the studio delivered a more refined, interesting, and focused experience in Shadow of the Colossus. The main premise is familiar: Save a princess from her never-ending slumber as her lover, but, the player has to kill 16 innocent Colossi in order to do so. The studio managed to make players care about the Colossi they’re tasked with killing, the main protagonist and his horse Argo, and the princess yet again without dialogue, or exposition.
Perhaps now it becomes clearer as to why everyone is dying for any news about Team ICO’s next outing, and why the industry was glued to its seat salivating once that initial E3 2009 trailer rolled out. But the truth of the matter is, the studio hasn’t delivered anything at all for nearly a decade. Most of the major players behind both of Team ICO’s titles, including producer Kenji Kaido, executive producer Yoshifusa Hayama, and more importantly creative director Fumito Ueda, have moved on to other projects. That magic has waned, and all people are left with are grand memories, and nostalgia that’s still keeping them going to this day, but that’s quickly waning as well.
The Last Guardian looked to be like a continuation of greatness, a grand reminder of why video games truly are their own, exquisite art form; or at least people understandably just deemed it that. But other developers and games, such as Thatgamecompany’s Journey which retains that same simple, but effective design as Shadow of the Colossus, are filling this creative void that was once solely occupied by Team ICO. People are just not relying on The Last Guardian to meet their narrative demands. So, instead of watching that E3 trailer over and over again, everyone’s too busy playing games like LIMBO and Journey, and that’s quite fine.
This article contains spoilers for the game A Dark Room
Even in the face of mainstream scrutiny during the embarrassing, ongoing #gamergate debacle, there’s an optimistic perspective from well-respected magazines and other publications that videogames are, despite all odds, an art form; a recent piece from The New Yorker concludes that games have “a vibrant future,” while the New York Times categorizes its video game articles online under both ‘technology’ and ‘arts.’ In reality, there’s not much of an argument to put against the notion; art is, by definition, a creative work that affects its viewers, usually emotionally—a response nearly unanimous upon the release of games like Bioshock, Journey, and The Last of Us. To take the argument one step further, I’d assert that games are not just art, but poetry.
There’s no arguing the stigma against games, most evident when I’m at Thanksgiving dinner and my girlfriend’s grandparents ask what I do for a living over a bowl of mashed potatoes. When I tell them I play and write about videogames there’s usually a long pause where their potatoes slump onto their plate and they say “Oh, that’s unique,” before changing the subject and asking what my favourite colour is instead. A similar experience can be said about the resistance to poetry by the younger audience, and perhaps that’s why the two go so well hand-in-hand.
An old idiom expressed in the world of literature is that “poetry cannot be paraphrased.” The most well-known argument for this comes from critic Cleanth Brooks’ The Heresy of Paraphrase in which Brooks states that “[a true poem is] an experience rather than any mere statement about experience or any mere abstraction from experience.” In laymen’s terms: the act of reading a poem is part of its poetry. The same can be said about most videogames. If someone were to ask me, “What’s Call of Duty about?” I would probably say, simply, “It’s about playing ‘hero,’” but if someone were to ask me, “What’s Journey?” I’d have a hard time saying anything other than, “You’d have to play it”—it cannot be paraphrased.
Take a look at the renowned poetry of E.E. Cummings or of Canadian poet bpNichol, both of whom work with the space on a page as though it’s an entity in of itself. Even when a poem isn’t considered “visual,” line breaks and other poetic devices are utilized to create a ‘dialogue’ between the reader and the writer. This is the same ‘dialogue’ as between the developer to the player; the page is to poetry as the screen is to games. Unlike the linearity of most cinema or novels, games are meant to be meandered through, they’re meant to be observed and interpreted, and it’s that agency of interactivity—and the dialogue between developer’s and players—that sets games apart more than any other medium.
In a blog post, arts critic Lana Polanksy discussed the “poetics of play,” and her experience with what was essentially an interactive poem.
“There’s an explicit and implicit grammar to poetry,” Polanksy said. “There are spaces and pauses in which readers are made to contemplate, to see where words are organized in line and in syntax to create some kind of meaning.”
Consider now the “spaces and pauses” in videogames. Imagine playing Super Mario Bros. for the first time: The game’s mechanics are taught intuitively through the space on the screen (through the dialogue between you and the developer), and when you reach the first question mark block, or your first green pipe, there’s a pause of curiosity. Videogames have an unmatched ability to allow players to veer off the written path and remain immersed. The audio logs of Bioshock, the easter eggs of San Andreas—these moments don’t need to be profound to be poetry.
With the exception of novels akin to the confounding Finnegans Wake, you likely won’t be dissecting every aspect of a novel’s writing (not to imply passiveness, but compared to the act of reading poetry, absorbing a novel is a breeze) nor scrutinizing every pixel in a game world. Most contemporary poetry is brief yet layered in complexities that can only be discerned through the reader’s agency of interpretation (or, interaction)—a perfect parallel to experimental or small team “indie” games. It’s here that we echo back to paraphrasing: in the 2014 film Pixel Poetry, game critic Adam Sessler says “[high concept games] are tough to actually explain to someone without allowing them to play.” It’s those focused, innovative games that stand out as poetry.
Beside me, my girlfriend is playing A Dark Room on her phone. She’s far from what I’d call a gamer (she played Threes for a bit, and thinks Pokemon are cute), but she’s picked up the game after I almost immediately brushed it off for boring me. An hour later, she shouts, “Holy shit, there’s a spaceship!” and I look out the window. There’s not a spaceship. There’s a text-only videogame that began with the simple words “light fire.” A videogame that brought her to a tangible moment of profound emotion.
And that’s poetry.
Over the past year Sony PlayStation has shown interest in one very specific topic: indie titles. Releases like Journey, Tokyo Jungle, Sound Shapes and Guacamelee have found their ways onto the PlayStation Network, a place previously dominated by triple-A best-sellers.
The company has also been bringing lesser-known games previously unavailable such as Hotline Miami and Lone Survivor to its aging console. All this is creating a strong, diverse indie community for PlayStation gamers.
Unfortunately, Microsoft hasn’t been doing the same.
While Microsoft has created a strategy for indie game development, they don’t expect any indie games out at launch for their console. Luckily, Phil Harrison, corporate VP of Microsoft’s Europe interactive business said in an interview with GamesIndustry that “it’s reasonable to expect in early 2014 we’ll start seeing the first games come through.”
This is a company that had some great indie titles on its last console including Fez and Limbo. It will be hard for them to bring indie developers on the table if Sony continues to trademark itself as the “indie” console.
Because Sony has been emphasizing indie titles for PS4 in an almost overwhelming fashion. The company recently held an indie event at PAX where they showed off games such as Octodad and Contrast which will be coming to the new console. They have also revealed games like Resogun, which is a spiritual successor to Super Stardust HD.
It’s no secret that Sony wants this community either. In an interview with MCV, Shuyei Yoshida, Sony Computer Entertainment’s Worldwide Studios President, said “if we are just doing big budget triple-A sequels the industry doesn’t have a bright future. We need new ideas to be tried out. And while of course the big teams are trying new ideas too, the amount of resources needed and the financial risk is so large that they have to set a certain limit on that. That’s where the indies come in.”
Sony’s huge emphasis on indie titles may even take away from Steam’s prowess as an indie hub. In an interview with Polygon, Yoshida claims “we asked assorted creators what kind of functionality we should put in, and we used their responses as a base when we finalized the hardware architecture. We’re aiming for not just performance, but also an environment setup that allows for smooth PS4 game development.
This ease implies that anyone will be able to develop for PS4, allowing for more indie developers to create games at a much faster pace.
Microsoft is in a very tough position that, if not dealt with soon, will see them losing many opportunities to take advantage of the growing indie community.
Videogames Live, an orchestral concert series that plays music from many different games, has surpassed its Kickstarter goal of $250,000.
Last August Tommy Tallarico, videogame composer and one of the creators of Videogames Live, launched a Kickstarter. The project is for production of a CD rather than a new concert tour.
The album, titled Level 3, will contain arrangements from games like Shadow of the Colossus and Journey.
Tallarico said in the site video that he wants to release an album that contains songs not normally covered in concerts. “Not the Marios or the Zeldas..”
The album will be region-free, and will also be available digitally. The target release date for Level 3 is February 18, 2014.
With the DICE awards now behind us, the nominee’s are up for the 2013 BAFTA (The British Academy of Film, Television and Arts) awards promising another close inspection at the videogames this year.
With the 16th annual D.I.C.E. awards coming to a close, C&G Magazine has your highlights from key note speakers to who won what for this year’s awards show.
Journey is dominating the 2013 D.I.C.E. awards with 11 nominations including outstanding achievement in music composition, game direction and overall game of the year; leaving other games in the dust, so to speak.
2012 is almost over and we failed to be hit by an asteroid, catastrophic alignment of stars or massive epidemic of natural disasters. Instead what we got was some pretty decent comics and games, as well as the debut of Wii U to mark the start of a new console generation. As we see this year out, it’s time to look back at what has gone on, and recognize excellence when it has happened. While everyone at CGM has had their fair share of entertainment products that failed to live up to their goal, there were always other works that reminded us of why we love comics and games so much. Now it’s time for us to show you what we the staff at CGM, thought were some of the best things that 2012 had to offer.
On the last CGPodcast of 2012, the C&G Crew discuss the Game of the Year. Such games as Dishonored, Journey, XCOM and Far Cry 3 on the list tensions were high in picking just one game. In the end the crew made some cuts and the final winner was announced. Beyond the GOTY discussion the team also talk about the latest from THQ and the drama surrounding War Z.
Note: Please don’t read this week’s column if you haven’t played Journey and plan to do so in the future. A lot of the game’s impact comes from discovering how it works for yourself.
It gives my old, black heart a warm, fuzzy feeling when I see guys like Tim Schafer and Brian Fargo have their own It’s a Wonderful Life moment and realize that lots of people out there do think they matter, that the work they have produced has touched people. The big publishers may not think that a game is worth producing unless six million people are willing to buy it, but one or two million fans is still nothing to sneeze at, especially if your game isn’t that expensive to produce.