E3 2016: Sony Press Conference

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Almost every year, I like to digitally “attend” the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, California, the biggest trade show in the video game industry. Since I started blogging regularly six years ago, I've tried to provide readers some written coverage of the show's numerous press conferences for the benefit of anyone interested in my raw thoughts on the week of product reveals and announcements. This year, I'm pleased to be able to bring my E3 coverage, such as it is, to Eruditorum Press. The following is a part of a series I'm writing on E3 2016, looking at the press conferences and events of three major players in the industry: Bethesda Softworks, Sony Computer Entertainment and Nintendo.
 
I won't be buying a PlayStaton 4.
 
Announced last week ahead of E3 by publisher Square-Enix (who don't have a press conference this year), Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is an expanded re-release of another of my favourite games-The one non-Pokémon JRPG to ever truly capture my heart. To date, it's only been confirmed for a PlayStation 4 release, but every Final Fantasy reissue has found its way to other platforms eventually, and I have confidence this one won't be any different. The whole reason I watched Sony's press conference, which I otherwise had zero interest in, was to see if they would have some more to say about the re-release, particularly if it was going to be a platform exclusive or not, but Zodiac Age was a no-show. That, along with the at that point unnamed and unannounced The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: Special Edition, was really going to be the deciding factor in whether or not I would bite the bullet and buy a PlayStation 4. But with TESV coming to PC and no more word on Zodiac Age at the big Sony song-and-dance (...literally, as last night's show was no bullshit fully scored by a live orchestra) I've no reason to get a PS4, especially considering how incensed I still am by their subscriber-only online multiplayer service PSN Plus.
 
But I'm not just not buying the system. After last night, in fact, I feel like actively boycotting it. This was one of the most offensive and insulting press conferences I've seen in all my years doing this show.
 

 
After a preposterously long and ponderously self-indulgent orchestrated introduction, Sony literally lifted the curtain to show off its first big reveal: A reboot of the fan favourite sixth generation franchise God of War. In this series you play Kratos, a cartoonishly overmuscled he-man who, feeling betrayed by his gods after the death of his family, goes out on a mission to personally brutally murder and dismember each and every one of them. I would argue it is a series that is, to use the language of the hip SJWs these days, “problematic”. The gameplay demo, set this time in a world inspired by Norse mythology instead of the classical Greek and Roman mythology of the original series, shows the new Kratos being a stern hardass with his son, a prospective hunter. Kratos tells his son (who never calls him father, only “sir”) that the mark of a true hunter is the ability to stop seeing the prey as an animal; to instead see it only as a mere target. Which he demonstrates by forcing him to take the life of a deer in the most cold-blooded way imaginable before berating him for panicking when they get attacked by a five-story tall frost giant.
 
There are a great many things I could say about this series, and the tone this particular entry seems to be setting for itself. I could be petty and fannish and point out that there's this inescapable feeling the creatively-titled God of War is trying to ape the now five-year old The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for its setting and making a dog's breakfast of it. I could point out that God of War is a series built around the shock value of lurid ultraviolence, which I used to just find juvenile but now I'm starting to find actively repellent and deeply personally offensive. Especially now that the series is straying outside of its home turf of classical-mythology-as-aesthetic-genre and into European paganism, which is kind of my thing. The idea of someone gleefully dicing up pagan gods and goddesses is...unbelievably upsetting and hurtful to me. If God of War had used the Abrahamic religions as inspiration instead of supposedly “dead” and “irrelevant” heathen ones, Sony Computer Entertainment would have been hauled into an obscenity court and tried for blasphemy and hate crimes.
 
There's Kratos himself, an icon of the video game medium for all the depressingly predictable and wrong reasons. The one thing that sort of saved the original game was that Kratos was explicitly meant to be an unhinged psychopathic murderer, and therefore a villain protagonist. The original God of War dates to a period in the medium where games were starting to become more introspective and self-reflexive, raising questions like “perhaps it's not the best idea to sadistically gun down representations of people in graphics engines that are trending inevitably and uncomfortably towards photorealism”. See also the contemporary PlayStation 2 critical darling Shadow of the Colossus. You weren't supposed to sympathize with Kratos, you were supposed to be steadily more unnerved by his obvious psychopathy as you progressed through the game (he even commits suicide at the end of the story). But people did, and starting with the first sequel, Kratos' psychopathy began to be portrayed more and more in a positive light, as something “cool” and “badass”. And, of course, “manly”.
 
Which all culminates in what Sony showed last night. A God of War where Kratos, now a father from the outset, teaches his son that the mark of a hunter is dehumanizing and objectifying your prey. Which is so cataclysmically wrongheaded I think it's going to be actually evil if this is the tone the game keeps. Look. I live in the mountains. I don't hunt (if I lived in a hunter-gatherer society, I would be the shaman), but a lot of people around me do. I get hunters (that is, hunters who hunt for subsistence). I'm not Native American, but I'm an anthropologist and have studied how indigenous people feed their families all over the world. And that is absolutely not the mark of a hunter. A true hunter is also a spiritualist, because a true hunter respects, and cherishes, the sanctity of all life. A real hunter understands that all life is sacred and connected. A real hunter would have made peace with the spirit of the animal he killed, and would have done a ritual to thank it for giving its life so that his family and community could have food and shelter. A real hunter is, above all else, empathic.
 
Kratos is not a hunter. Kratos is a killer. Kratos did not teach his son how to be a hunter. He taught him how to be a murderer.
 
It is entirely possible that the finished game will actually deal with these issues and be every bit as much of a deconstruction as the original game was. This demo did, after all, only show off the first, well “level” is the only word I have, although that's not really the way games are designed anymore. But the fact of the matter is, this is the section of the game Sony chose to show off to headline their E3 press conference, and this is the section of the game that got wild ovation and cheers from the audience (let it never be said that Sony does not have the most passionately loyal and loudly enthusiastic fans in the industry: A brief look back at their last three press conferences should prove this beyond the shadow of a doubt). And I don't feel I can give the new God of War the benefit of the doubt, because of the franchise's history to date and its relationship with its fanbase. I don't have any reason to believe Kratos is going to get called out for this behaviour, not when he's as beloved as he is for precisely that same behaviour, and not when Sony, more so than any other publisher, is so much in the business of pandering to the hardest of the hardcore.
 
All this would have been troubling enough, but it possibly wouldn't have been *quite* as immeasurably offensive to absolutely everything if Sony hadn't immediately followed up the God of War reveal with a somber speech about the mass shooting at a gay club in Orlando that happened two days ago. We were asked to all please give out thoughts to the victims and keep them in our hearts when we enjoyed a week of video games in a “temple to creativity”. Right after indulging in a lengthy gameplay demo of a game where a male power fantasy took a frightened child and coerced him into being a murderer. And I'm sorry, but that's just about where I reach my breaking point with all of this.
 
Fuck you. Fuck you, Sony Computer Entertainment. Fuck you, PlayStation. Fuck you, whoever thought it was a good idea to make an E3 gameplay demo out of that segment, and fuck you, whoever thought a tacked on rumination on how violence doesn't solve anything and how we should all be friends was a tasteful or appropriate way to follow up one of the most spectacular examples of cultural violence in fiction I've seen in recent memory. And fuck you, whoever thought that was in any way going to make up for it.
 
Fuck you, video games. I'm out. Forever.
 
Sony showed some other things, but, for me, nothing they could have possibly done was ever going to bring the show back from that. I spent the next hour and half staring at the screen in slack-jawed, dumbfounded amazement still trying to process what I had just seen. A procession of trailers follows, it's all a blur. Days Gone is a massive cliché storm starring yet another angsty, brooding white male vigilante protagonist. A gameplay demo at the end of the press conferences accomplishes the remarkable achievement of making it seem even more boring and unremarkable, revealing it to be just another zombie survival game. I felt like there oughtta have been a counter onscreen for the number of times the guy in Days Gone says “shit”, which felt like an annoyingly unnatural amount. And I'm certainly not anti-swearing. There's the obligatory appearance of beloved vaporware The Last Guardian, finally getting a release date for the end of this year. Horizon, a game revealed last year starring a female protagonist in a northern fantasy world, seems pretty enough, but I'm hard pressed to care about much of anything at this point.
 
Incidentally, Horizon, along with Days Gone and God of War, makes the third consecutive game in Sony's stable set in a fantasy northland/Boreal forest world (although Days Gone seems to be going for more of a Pacific Northwest vibe). As much as I love that setting and as important as it is to me, I'm beginning to wonder of Sony has actually played any other video games apart from The Elder Scrolls V, Minecraft and their own. And even that last one's starting to look debatable.
 
Detroit: Become Human is this year's offering from Quantic Dream and auteur David Cage, (in)famous for Indigo Prophecy, Heavy Rain and Ellen Page In: 3yond: Two Souls, Starring Ellen Page: Ellen Page In A New David Cage Game Starring Ellen Page. It's exactly what you'd expect one of those games to be, namely, an extremely expensive and overbudgeted Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novel that wishes it were a movie instead. Resident Evil VII is announced, with a confusing and unpronounceable title, along with some other generic-looking survival horror game. I don't care either way. At this point Sony segues into a discussion about their own VR headset, which is coming out this year and will retail for as much as the actual console does. Which, in a tragic bit of irony, still makes it the cheapest VR option on the market today.
 
In any other press conference, this would be the most offensive part of the presentation, because Sony actually *outright lies straight to our faces*. We are told that the PlayStation 4 is a “fixed platform”, which makes it an ideal showcase for VR because developers won't have to accommodate lots of different hardware configurations and permutations. This is a lie. The PlayStation 4 is *not* a fixed platform, because Sony is releasing a new one within the next twelve months. Not that you would know this from the press conference, because not only does Sony not even mention the previously confirmed PlayStation 4 Neo, it actually lies and tries to pretend it doesn't exist.
 
If this isn't the actual death of console gaming, it's an ominous portent. Microsoft as well is releasing not just one new version of the XBOX One, but two: A “slimline” model this year, and an entirely new architectural build next year codenamed “Project Scorpio”. This is a terrible sign, because the strength of consoles as a platform has always been their consistency: One hardware configuration released and supported for five to ten years with no changes, thus removing the single biggest problem with PC gaming: The constant need to buy, install and maintain new hardware upgrades, many of which cost as much as a new console. Games are made for the hardware, instead of the other way around. With Sony and Microsoft's announcements this week, all that has now likely come to an end, with analysts actually speculating the console manufacturers are overtly copying Apple's smartphone business model. Considering I think the smartphone/tablet industry is evil anticonsumer social control already and the PlayStation 4 and XBOX One are considerably more expensive than smartphones, it looks like this will be my final console generation.
 
Barring, perhaps, whatever Nintendo has in store.
 
Sony shows off a slew of new games being made for the PlayStation VR unit that costs as much as the console itself. The console you are now going to have to buy again, even though Sony lied and said you wouldn't have to. There's a game called Farpoint about some generic space marines and is called Farpoint, which I can't get over. There's a Star Wars Battlefront spinoff set in an X-Wing that's reminiscent of the old PC X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter games. There's a new Batman Arkham game designed exclusively for PlayStation VR. The trailer features a voiceover from The Joker that makes it sound like a fourth-rate retread of The Killing Joke or The Dark Knight, possibly both. Final Fantasy XV will have VR support, and I'm still so angry over everything else I can't appreciate how fundamentally embarrassing Final Fantasy XV is And indeed, how Final Fantasy has always been. Even the one I like has a six-foot tall bunny girl as one of the player characters who struts around in a metal negligee and combat stilettos. It's a series you must by definition feel bad and guilty about for enjoying.
 
There's a lengthy trailer for this year's Call of Duty, Infinite Warfare, which features *even more* space marines. There's also the announcement of an expanded re-release of the original Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, which is the only thing I've seen tonight that can make even a borderline defensible case for its existence because, like it or not, that's a historically important game and a significant turning point in the medium. There's an HD collection of the old Crash Bandicoot series that was on the original PlayStation in the 90s, which sent the audience into a frenzy. I might care more if I had actually owned a PlayStation in the 90s. Crash will also be in this year's Skylanders, the OG toys-to-life game that's changing things up by adding a character creation feature. There's a trailer for LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a game which I legitimately thought had come out already.
 
A triumphant Hideo Kojima, fresh off of his year-long ordeal of being ousted from Actual Supervillains Konami, walked onstage to a standing ovation to introduce his new game, Death Stranding. The game features a disturbingly photorealistic and disturbingly naked Norman Reedus in it, and that's about all I know. At least it isn't Ellen Page. The trailer opens with a quote from William Blake: Between that, the Batman Arkham VR thing and Sony's new Spider-Man franchise, I feel like Phil should be writing this instead of me.
 
Oh yeah, the PlayStation 4 is getting an exclusive new Spider-Man title from Insomniac Games. In fact, it's an entire exclusive new Spider-Man universe of games, sort of like a cinematic universe or a comic book series I guess. It's a neat idea and it looks colourful and fun. I sort of like Spider-Man. I would be more interested if this wasn't the tenth billionth game shown at this press conference featuring an angsty white male brooding about manpain. And if I could stop thinking about God of War.
 
Because no matter what else Sony does, they are never going to redeem themselves to me for that catastrophic God of War reveal. The air of the press conference was tainted from the moment that demo came onscreen. What Sony proved to me last night was that not only do I never need to buy a PlayStation 4, or any other PlayStation, or possibly any other video game machine ever again, Sony Computer Entertainment stand for everything that's wrong with the video game industry today. For what they did last night, their new console should tank like Nintendo's Virtual Boy. Sony may be the industry leader, but last night they showed beyond a doubt that they do not deserve to be.

Comments

Sean Dillon 10 months, 2 weeks ago

I think what hurt the reading of God of War as "this is a fucking monster you're meant to understand and not sympathize" for many people (myself included) was the existence of the sex mini game (which got easier and easier to find in later games (save, oddly, for the most recent one (which was played primarily out of nostalgia, though it wasn't all that satisfying), which cuts out the game entirely)) and the whole "he lives in the end and is rewarded for being a fucking monster" thing (which can work, see A Clockwork Orange (the second film based off that book with Malcolm McDowell) and The Last of Us (though I can see where people can read otherwise with that game), but I might be reading it as doesn't because I played God of War and its direct sequel relatively back to back).

Honestly, "Teenage angsting Spider-Man who every hates because he's special/a nerd" is probably the least interesting (and most used) take on the character, which is especially appalling when you realize that the character has almost as many varied and interesting takes as Doctor Who (please don't get me started on those parallels) including, but not limited to, "No, they hate you because you're a fucking asshole", "Female presenting gender fluid magician", "An Emissary from HELL", and, my personal favorite for Peter Parker, "bisexual magician coping with the collapse of his polyamorous relationship". As is, the game seems fun enough (this is Insomniac Games, the people behind Ratchet and Clank (of which I have fond memories of) and Sly Cooper (of which I respect more than I have actually played), though I heard it was going to be made by Sucker Punch productions, which would have been... interesting), though not enough to buy a PS4. Though the claim that this is the start of a Spider-Man video game universe is one of those things that makes things a bit interesting considering the whole failed cinematic universe they had going for them (an entirely sympathetic move given that its whole existence was primarily to spite Disney by keeping a character away from them, though one that was doomed to failure considering most people read the move as keeping it from Marvel to make more money (which was probably the reason they did it instead of the sympathetic subtext provided by The Mickey Mouse Protection Act) among other, even more unsympathetic, factors).

I probably should end this on a more video gamey note... uhm... look, most of the games talked about seemed uninteresting towards my taste in video games (though, Horizon does look like it has potential, the Lego Star Wars game hit my nostalgia, and Death Stranding is something I should pay attention to but not something I want to play), and sort of blurred together into an unmemorable haze. I spent most of the conference looking at my phone or reading Jim Sterling's twitter. I think I'm slowly growing detached towards video games, while at the same time keeping a foot in because there's some games that I like to play. In the end though, I think I've mostly moved on from the genre of gaming and towards other types.

Wait, Telltale Games are releasing a new season of The Walking Dead?! Well-

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Froborr 10 months, 2 weeks ago

Ellen Page In: 3yond: Two Souls, Starring Ellen Page: Ellen Page In A New David Cage Game Starring Ellen Page

Brilliant.

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Eve Schmitt 10 months, 2 weeks ago

The thing about the God of War franchise is that murdering all the Greek Gods is plausible. They're incredible jerks in the source material (except for Hephaestus, good old Hephaestus), and there are a number of people in Greek mythology who absolutely deserve to go on a rampage through Olympus for what the gods have done to them. Chief among them Medusa, who Athena made a monster because the poor woman was raped by Poseidon in Athena's temple. And all the women raped by Zeus who subsequently received the brunt of Hera's wrath.

But the Norse gods? Nothing like that happens in the Norse tales. Gods protect humankind, mostly far away from them, fighting giants and wolves and whatnot. Odin wanders Midgard, but not as a malevolent force. The only member of the Aesir who is a threat to humanity is Loki, and he didn't even start out that way.

This new God of War game is an attempt to map the norms of Greek mythology onto Norse mythology, and it doesn't work.

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Tim B 10 months, 2 weeks ago

Yep, kill off all the Norse gods prematurely and there goes vast chunks of the point of Ragnarök...

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Conscience 10 months, 2 weeks ago

"They're incredible jerks in the source material (except for Hephaestus, good old Hephaestus)"

In the story of Erichthonius, Hephaestus tries to rape Athena.

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Sean Dillon 10 months, 2 weeks ago

It's funny how it's always rape that future writers try to sweep under the rug for the happy go lucky characters (be they victim (Spider-Man) or perpetrator (Kirk)). No wait, not funny, a word noting the bemused cruelty that cements the state of things.

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Eve Schmitt 10 months, 2 weeks ago

Didn't know about that one.

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Jane 10 months, 2 weeks ago

I am firmly of the belief that the myths have been rewritten over and over again, the better to reflect the society at the time. So when it comes to the rape stories in ancient mythology (which ultimately normalize rape) I like to retell them differently. Persephone, for example, a Goddess in her own right, doesn't get raped by Hades, she chooses to step into her own queendom because it's time to step out of the shadow of her mother.

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Eve Schmitt 10 months, 2 weeks ago

The face Kratos is making is...awfully familiar.

There's two different versions of a photo comic called "how to brush like a man,", wherein a bearded man proceeds to get toothpaste all over his beard. (https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/11/c7/cf/11c7cf89c24a7f2e46cafa5a8a31739f.jpg) Kratos is making the "Brush like a man" shouty face.

Granted, any bald man with a scruffy beard making that face would look the same. But it is not merely the resemblance -- it is also the fact that Kratos' expression has already been parodied twice. Many people on the Internet have much fun with the idea that there is something goofy about the ultra-manliness that Kratos represents. The very source of his appeal lends itself to easy parodies.

Kratos even LOOKS like a parody. Or a satire. Probably a satire. His character is based on amplification, after all -- he takes everything manly about video game heroes and makes them SUPER ULTRA MEGA MANLY to the point of making them look ridiculous. KILL EVERYONE WITH A GIANT SWORD! SHOUT AT THE HEAVENS! HAVE SEX ON THE SIDE AND THEN BACK TO THE SLAUGHTER! RAAAAAAAAAH!

But in this game the satire ends when Kratos gives that damn hunting advice. The writers had him tell his kid that the best way to hunt was to treat the target like a thing instead of an animal. That's...cold. Kratos isn't cold. Kratos is the embodiment of white-hot rage. An sociopathic style of hunting is the exact opposite of what Kratos is supposed to do. Why the hell would he give that kind of advice?

It doesn't even make sense from a hunting perspective! Treating a hunted animal like it's a target and not an animal is the stupidest way to hunt I've ever heard. Animals survive because they are very clever when they want to escape death. You have to outsmart your prey if you want to kill it. You have to know what it will think, and counter accordingly. You have to understand that it has thoughts and feelings, though they be unformed for lack of spoken language. You have to make a mental connection. You must have empathy to hunt successfully. You must have empathy to fish. You must have empathy to trap. You must have empathy to catch any animal more often than luck will allow.

Which means that Kratos is giving that kind of advice because his writers said "what's the most badass thing Kratos could say to his child?" And not "what advice would a hunter actually give?"

Or even "What advice would Kratos give?" Kratos would probably say something like "Drive your prey before you and do not relent. Stand over its warm corpse and reach into its guts and pull out its gizzards, and feast upon them. Smile, for you have triumphed over another foe." That's still bad advice for hunting, but it's in-character for Kratos.

Wait, no it isn't. It's too quiet. "PULL HIS HEART OUT AND HOLD YOUR TROPHY TO THE SKY! LET THE GODS TREMBLE AT THE SIGHT, FOR THEY KNOW THEY ARE NEXT!" That's better.

Kratos is, after all, a berserker, which is the one thing about him that makes him appropriate for the setting. He runs around with no armor, slaughtering everything in his path.

Were the writers too busy to care about writing proper dialogue for Kratos? Did an editor mar their perfect vision? Something in the production of that hunting advice went terribly wrong. Something in the production of this game went awry. You've got a Greek hero in Northern European Winter Land trying to treat the Pagan gods like they're Greek, and telling his child something Kratos would never say.

I begin to worry about the quality of the gameplay itself. Did the producers take care to make a game that's playable? Or did they just say "slap a God of War Game together and, uh...set it in Northern Europe, that's where all the cool fantasy games are set these days."

If producers don't care about the basic elements of the main characters of a franchise, that's a sign that they don't care about the rest of the production. Think about what's happened with all the recent movies where a white guy plays a role meant for a different ethnicity. Look at how many of these movies have flopped. Dragon Ball Z, The Last Airbender, Exodus, Gods of Egypt...if the producers don't care about something basic like making their main character fit the setting or the source material, then they're probably making it for the quick cash-grab without considering quality, and hiring people who also don't care about the story, or any other part of the execution. (Any studio that would hire M. Night Shyamalan for a movie clearly does not care about the quality of the story.)

I fully expect this game to arrive on Steam with a hundred different hilarious bugs. Kratos will jump into a snowbank and get stuck. He will fall through the floor of his cabin. His hand will clip through the face of his child and his arm will swing around to hit him.

I have something to look forward to for this game. How about that?

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