Chobot Effect

Allers

By now a good amount has been written about this “event” by various people.

It boils down to:

  • BioWare/EA releases the Mass Effect 3 voice cast trailer, which includes a bunch of people we expected and one person we didn’t.
  • Said person is Jessica Chobot, who also happens to be a member of the games press who did a preview of Mass Effect 3.
  • Cue crazy conversation tearing up the internets about (choose your topic): pandering to lonely male gamers, publicity stunt casting, conflict of interest, whether previews in game coverage are actual journalism, etc.

So far, the best opinions on this I have read are Susan Arendt’s rundown of the possible reasons for doing so:

I get all that. I don’t like it, but I get it. This is a business, after all, and EA is very, very good at gaming the system to get more of your munney. Which is why I just plain don’t understand the Chobot thing. What does including her hope to achieve? Let’s go through the options.

and Bill Abner’s thoughts on the journalistic integrity of this move or lack thereof:

It’s good to know that Maxim has finally infiltrated the game press and BioWare continues to fuel the repressed sexual angst of both teenagers and lonely adults.  Never fear, now you’ll get a chance to nail a virtual Jessica Chobot! Maybe she’ll even do a Fem-Shep scene! Dream come true, indeed. All of this is so slimy, so juvenile, and so…profitable.

Truth is, I don’t care if Jessica Chobot is in Mass Effect 3 or not. I mean look, if I don’t care that Martin Sheen is in it I really don’t care that someone who licks PSPs makes a cameo.

G4 should care, though.

They should care a lot.

Look. I had been wishing that people would at least give Chobot a break on this. As far as I can tell and understand, she’s actually someone she plays and enjoys playing games and has been a big fan of the Mass Effect series.

If you were provided this opportunity to voice a character in purportedly the last game for a while in one of our favorite series, I’m sure you would jump at the chance (and if not I would hope you would defer so I could do it instead).

BUT—

Then I read this interview puff piece on G4 regarding the casting announcement.

Let me provide you with some choice quotes:

“It’s a dream come true. I’m excited, stoked and honored. I’m seriously in 7th heaven,” Chobot said. “It’s cool just because it’s in a video game, but it’s also for one of my favorite companies of all time, Bioware, and in one of the most epic series of all time, Mass Effect 3.”

This is great. It’s about the kind of quote that I would provide were I in that position. BS detector not engaged yet; condition green.

Chobot says the sight of herself as a virtual character was a bit of a shock at first.  “You’re just not used to seeing yourself like that,” she explained, “I have huge chipmunk cheeks. I hope I don’t look like a chipmunk in real life…and the butt and boobs are impressive. I wish I had boobs like that, and the butt is quite large. I hope my butt is not that big, but I’m happy that everything looks very firm in the game.”

YELLOW ALERT.

This is a grade A humblebrag. It also happens to draw attention to the reason lots of people have been ragging on her for being in the game that I was hoping was just mistaken: “They made me look pretty in the game (except for the big butt) but I’m really not all that pretty” says the former model who had a picture taken suggestively licking a PSP.

But let us go on.

“Last I heard, I am one of the ‘romanceable’ characters in the game,” Chobot said. “I think you can bring me on the Normandy, I think you have the option of kicking me off too. I’m not sure if that’s before or after you romance me, so we might have a Jersey Shore moment. I think you can romance me with a man or a woman. We’ll see when the game comes out,” Chobot added.

When asked whether she planned to “romance” herself, Chobot said, “Oh, I’m gonna give it to me so hard.”

*klaxons blaring*

*exasperated sigh*

I could facepalm on this twenty times and it wouldn’t be enough. It is pandering, juvenile, and embarrassing all at once. I’m not often embarrassed by what happens in the games industry, but this “interview” by a “journalistic outlet” is just plain awful and I’m frightened to think that not only did someone write it, but I have no reason to believe that this is anything other than thinly veiled PR for G4 and someone thought it was a good thing to post to the internet.

As cool and respectful to women as Bioware has been with Mass Effect (female main character option with complete voiceover, strong female character in ME2’s Liara, range of love interests in ME2 for those playing as a female lead), they have done just as much that’s lame (female love interests that all have daddy issues and insecurity, Jack’s “clothes”, Miranda’s gratuitous ass cleavage), so this unfortunately doesn’t really surprise me.

I was hoping to be able to get past this and maybe be pleasantly surprised in a casting choice that strangely made sense in the end, but this promotion in the form of “reporting” just brings into relief the fact that it’s a mark of the immaturity that still plagues the game industry and the media that covers it.

Focus

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Going all the way back to last year, I told myself (and others) that I was going to make a concerted attempt at blogging more often. I view it as tragedy that I work for a company that has as its goal helping to bring publishing to as many people as possible by providing the best hosted blogging platform in the world, but seem reluctant to blog myself.

I think part of this has been information overload. I am very good at synthesizing large amounts of information and finding the stuff that’s interesting, but over the last six months or so there’s just been too much going on.

My effort this year is going to be one gaining focus. My thoughts on this:

  • I’m more likely to write about things that interest me.
  • I’m more likely to write about things that I read, and vice versa.
  • I’ve been reading too much and in too many areas, and thus my writing has suffered as a result.

I have historically had a problem with focus. The result of this is last year, when I blogged about everything from my family to tech things to anecdotes to whatever.

I am going to change this.

If you look at the menu of my blog now you will see that I have divided things into two basic categories: “games” and “off topic.”

Games are my hobby and my passion. I love playing them, I love thinking about them, and I love dissecting them, whether it is a game that’s sitting on the dining room table with pieces and points scored, a sport, or the latest video game on my TV. Therefore, games are going to be the focus of my blogging from this point on.

I’ve also made changes to my information intake. I have cut free all of the big tech aggregators that I have in my reading list and will now depend on friends and Twitter to find the really interesting stuff there (which is usually a really good indicator). Instead, I’m looking for the best blogs to read that talk about the stuff that I want to talk about. I’ve already curated quite a list that I hope to share with you in the near future.

I think that by reading more about the stuff that I want to write about, I can engage in that discussion and hopefully become part of a larger but more focused community. I also believe that by focusing more on a tighter scope of content, I will build my audience from people who want to read about those things. There is an emergence in critical thinking regarding games (specifically video games) happening right now and I want to be a part of that.

The last thing that I plan to do hasn’t happened yet because I am still trying to figure out how best to do it, and that is to set aside a specific time each day to write. I don’t practice the craft often enough and as a result I don’t think my writing is up to the level that I want for myself. This will be an effort to change that.

I made this decision about a week ago and it’s taken me that long to write this post, so I’m not really being successful so far. But I do hope that you will join me by reading. If you don’t think about games all that often, I hope to teach you a thing or two or clue you in the really interesting things that are going on in the space. And if games do interest you, I hope you will join in the conversation.

I Love You, Kill Screen, But…

This is what I get quarterly from Kill Screen for $40 a year; just shy of 100 pages:

This is what I get from the Grantland Quarterly for $48 a year; about 340 pages including a pull-out style section:

To be fair, Kill Screen is full color and has a lot more content that either isn’t available on the website or is delayed there after the print publication. (Grantland is done in 2-color groups and has mostly content that was published on the website about six months earlier, but it’s hardcover.)

I love both publications and think that they are both full of a lot of very, very good writing, but there’s a value comparison here that’s not in Kill Screen‘s favor, especially considering that Kill Screen has ads and Grantland Quarterly doesn’t.

No; Really – Buy Quarrel Today

Nathan Brown for Edge:

“We heard the same justifications for passing on it over and over again ad nauseam. One signal came through clearer than any other among the general noise of reasons why Quarrel wasn’t for them, and that was this: ‘Gamers don’t buy word games’.”

It’s a claim Anderson naturally disputes, and with Quarrel launching today on Xbox Live Arcade, he calls on gamers to buy a copy – “Or four, it’s only 400 MSP” – and to “tell everyone you can about the game. Discovery remains the single biggest challenge facing original games these days by far.”

I plan on proving them wrong later this afternoon (and I already have it on iOS). Join me.

You Should Buy Quarrel

Quarrel comes out on Xbox Live Arcade today for the measly sum of five whole dollars and it’s pretty safe to say that if you don’t buy it you don’t like words.

It is a great iOS game that inexplicably lacks multiplayer, which is something that they thankfully decided to remedy for the Live Arcade incarnation.

Nimblebit with the Call Out on Zynga

Huge high five to Nimblebit—developers of Tiny Tower—for this image that’s making the rounds today:

Click on it; it’s way too big to slap into a post.

This is shameful: the dual currency system, the game basics, even the stocking of items and the favorite job mechanic would all seem to be directly lifted, would they not?

Lots of people have been wondering if Zynga is foundering; this certainly doesn’t make it look like they have much magic left right now.

(Seen on VentureBeat, Destructoid, et al.)

UPDATE: Nathan Brown writes for Edge on a noticeable trend developing with Zynga.

The Making of Madden NFL

Tom Bissell for Grantland with a fascinating behind-the-scenes on how Madden is made every year:

Every year for the past three years, key members of Madden NFL’s development team have traveled to the Bay Area suburb of Pleasanton, Calif., to meet with John Madden himself at his production company’s office building. There, Coach Madden and the dev team discuss identifiable trends that have emerged in professional football over the past year and spitball ideas about how these trends might be implemented in gameplay. Coach Madden is also briefed on the creative direction and “feature set” of next year’s game. Once that’s done, Coach (as he’s called) and the dev team watch a fully catered afternoon’s worth of professional football games in a large studio space that Coach built after retiring from broadcasting a few years ago.

I—like, I am sure, many others—did not have any idea that Madden was as intricately involved in the development of each game as portrayed in this article.

It’s a great read on how EA Tiburon works to create a fresh take year after year, and some thoughts on the future of the king of sports video games.

ESA Drops SOPA Support

Stephen Totilo for Kotaku:

The Entertainment Software Association no longer supports the Stop Online Piracy Act, the controversial anti-piracy bill that was shelved earlier today in the House of Representatives after a week of fierce online protests.

The people who bring us E3 simply don’t want to bring us SOPA anymore. The bill’s got problems, they say.

Of course this only happens once the fight for these two pieces of legislation is essentially over (though Marco Arment is correct that a new one is always looming).

Penny-Arcade hit the weirdness of this right on the head. The ESA does good quite often, but in this case it was just plain wrong. One has to wonder if Red 5’s actions caused any other studios to threaten to take their E3 budgets elsewhere.

Red 5 and SOPA/PIPA

Dennis Scimeca for Ars Technica:

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg for PC game developer Red 5 Studios. Not only has the studio blocked access to the beta of free-to-play open-world shooter Firefall for the day, but it also revealed last week that it is pulling out of the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) showcase, which is run by the SOPA-supporting Entertainment Software Association (ESA).

Red 5 will also use the $50,000 it would have spent on a promotional E3 booth to start The League For Gamers, a grassroots group it calls “a gathering place for gamers, developers and industry supporters who want to stand against legislation that’s detrimental to the games industry.”

Read the rest, including an interview with CEO Mark Kern. The ESA, like many other industry associations, can be a good thing. But it can also be a bad thing when it claims to speak for all its member organizations.

It’s refreshing to see a developer standing up for this.

Genki Bowl VII

Tom Chick’s quick review of the Genki Bowl VII DLC for Saints Row: The Third has prompted me to write some thoughts I was saving for tomorrow.

He says:

The Genki Bowl DLC is weird for weird’s sake, and frankly, it’s not even that weird. A giant ball of rampaging pink yarn is just an immutable Katamari. The new pink catwomen homies are no stranger than the costumes you’ve probably been wearing all along. A pink convertible with mounted flamethrowers sure would be cool in a game without VTOL cycles, TRON tanks, and a moon buggy.

I want so much to disagree with this, but I have to say that I’m unfortunately disappointed with this first DLC pack in much the same way.

The Third was a great ride and definitely worth my money, and to support Volition for making it I dropped the money on the season pass for the DLC sight-unseen. But Genki Bowl VII is missing almost everything that I liked about the base game itself.

It’s a series of derivative diversions that aren’t as fun as the material that they are supposed to push to the next level of crazy.

Apocalypse Genki is a harder and more confusingly-laid-out version of Super Ethical Reality Climax. Super Ethical PR Opportunity is an Escort mission, just not as difficult or novel. Sexy Kitten Yarngasm is the Tank Mayhem diversion but without a cannon and with hangups on the world geometry. And Sad Panda Skyblazing—though a unique diversion that’s like nothing else in the game—is an exercise in frustration that’s over as soon as you figure it out.

The bonuses for completing these things aren’t even very interesting, especially if you are playing with a character that’s already reached the endgame. There’s little enjoyment to be had in running them co-op (though it does decrease the difficulty a bit). And there’s a moment in the closing cut scene where it’s blatantly obvious that they didn’t record lines with The Third‘s uniformly excellent voice talent.

I had high hopes for the DLC based on my experience with the base game—but it was such an over-the-top piece of performance art that perhaps anything they do at this point is going to fall short.