Last month, a gameplay trailer for an upcoming game called Black Myth: Wukong by a China based developer called Game Science released to almost immediate viral uproar. When I say uproar, I do not mean it in negative terms. I mean that the gaming community went crazy with how impressed we all were with the footage. I have to say that personally I wasn’t just impressed. I was enamored. In fact, I was so impressed that this is the first game that I have ever thought to myself that I would actually invest in a crowdfunding campaign for it. If you’ve been reading my blog for a long time then you probably know that I have really negative feelings about supporting crowdfunded game development projects, but this trailer captivated me enough to be willing to break my own general rule about them.
Black Myth: Wukong is an action adventure game that stars the Monkey King (Sun Wukong in Mandarin). For those who don’t know, the Monkey King is a Chinese deity best known for his role in the classic Buddhist epic tale Journey to the West. While most people outside of Asia probably don’t formally know this story, there’s a good chance you’ve seen some adapted version or reference to it at some point in your life. When I was a kid, my first exposure to the story was a cartoon called Monkey Magic. It was a Saturday morning anime that sometimes appeared on TV. Sadly it was only 13 episodes and never played consistently but I really liked the show. At this point I had no idea about Journey to the West or the greater significance of the Monkey King character. Other examples of the Journey to the West/Monkey King mythos being adapted for Western and younger Asian audiences are actually all over the place and have been for decades. The original Dragonball manga/cartoon is an adaptation of this story. Goku is the Monkey King, which explains why he always seems to have too much power. The game Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (2010) is an adaptation of this story. There’s a good chance you know the skeleton of the Journey to the West narrative but don’t realize it. For me, I’ve been a fan of the Monkey King character for most of my life, but I’ve never really thought of him in terms of Buddhism precisely because I was exposed to the character via numerous non-religious adaptations of the story and character.
The Monkey King is an interesting character because he’s carefree and funny but honestly way too over powered. He’s like if Superman got the Infinity Gauntlet and destroyed all the kryptonite in the universe. While I’m by no means an expert on the subject, I’m aware of several powers the character has at his disposal. For starters, he has a staff that can shrink and grow to any size and length. This is the “power pole” Goku uses in Dragonball. He also has a flying cloud that he can ride at high speed anywhere he wants to go that can be summoned at any time. You probably know this as “flying nimbus” from Dragonball Z. He is also a great martial artist, using monkey style kung fu, with herculean strength and unmatchable speed. But these are just the surface level things the Monkey King can do. His more epic powers, many of which are not known to people in the West, include an insane number of abilities. For instance, all of his hairs can be picked off one at a time and thrown to create clones of himself. Those same hairs can also turn into weapons and other objects including animals. He can transform into up to 72 different alternate forms each with their own abilities and uses such as animals and special objects. This is made reference to in Naruto when the third Hokage summons Monkey King: Enma and has him turn into a staff to fight Orochimaru. Supposedly the Monkey King even has the ability to manipulate the weather and cast magic that freezes people in place. The character is just a wee bit too strong.
The Monkey King’s ridiculous amount of power is, in my opinion, why we’ve never really had a great Monkey King game before. We have had Monkey King games in the past but I’ve always found them disappointing. And I’ve certainly not tried all of them. It’s hard to make a balanced game with a character that is just too powerful. Even just making a compelling story about such a character is difficult. That’s why many of the stories surrounding the Monkey King are about him getting his powers stolen or locked away. In fact, the principle concept of his character in Journey to the West is that he has been captured/enslaved by a Buddhist monk with a golden ring that is stuck on his head and keeps him under the monk’s control. The most recent Monkey King video game I tried was Monkey King: Hero is Back (2019) published by THQ Nordic. I was so disappointed with this game and I had such high hopes for it when I tried it. Ultimately I found it to be a lack luster experience for a number of reasons, not all of which had to do with the specific subject matter. But to be fair, that particular game is based directly on an animated movie that came out in 2015. That doesn’t excuse the gameplay and loading issues, but the graphics and plot were completely justified. In whatever case, this was not the Monkey King game I always wanted. Really I didn’t think I’d ever get the game I wanted, until I saw the trailer for Black Myth: Wukong.
I don’t like the whole “Black Myth: Wukong looks like Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice” narrative. I think that’s reductionist. What’s important is what the 13 minutes of gameplay footage delivered on its own terms. This is a fantasy game, which is in my opinion important to the setting of the mythos. The Monkey King is a talking monkey with powers. His origin is that of a monkey. He is not a human that fused with a monkey or a human-monkey offspring hybrid. He is a monkey. This requires a fantasy setting where animals walk and talk like people. But this is not a cartoony game. What sets this game’s setting apart from Monkey King: Hero is Back and many other Monkey King adaptations is that the setting is a realistic, more adult version of that fantasy setting. It does look like a Sekiro or a Ghost of Tsushima where the art style is meant to mimic real life in an animated way, but without losing the fantasy aspect of it. While obvious, this is a third person action game. That’s a non-negotiable detail that is an absolute must for a good Monkey King game. The powers are present. Even though many of his powers are OP, it wouldn’t really be a Monkey King game if you didn’t have them. The footage showed the clone power, the power pole, the transformation power, the flying nimbus, and more. This is both an authentic Monkey King game and an adult action game. That’s the Monkey Game I’ve been waiting for.
The other thing that really sold me on this game was the lead developer’s response to the trailer going viral. Many devs would have gotten big headed and reveled in the overwhelmingly positive response, but this developer didn’t. He was extremely humble. So much so that he pointed out the flaws in the trailer, none of which I noticed on my own, and apologized for them saying that he wishes he had the resources to do better work. He then proceeded to say that he didn’t even want to release the trailer but did so as a means of advertising employment opportunities. Let me say that again. This guy released a trailer that went viral not in order to promote the game but to promote job openings to make the final project look better than the trailer that went viral. That’s the most respectable shit I’ve seen from a developer in a long time. Get this man a team and more funding right now!
The problem is that this game is a huge undertaking and, as the head of Game Science stated, their team is too small. And since it’s an indie, they’re probably underfunded as well. I don’t know anything about their publishing options for this game. They may not even be far enough along to have started that conversation yet. Their website doesn’t have a release date, but it says the game “shouldn’t take 500 years”. I know that’s a joke reference to the story that the Monkey King was trapped under a mountain by Buddha for 500 years, but that kind of statement still makes me sad. Because it’s definitely a reference to their lack of resources. Usually I don’t care about this sort of thing. Games are shown and cancelled all the time. Plus there are way too many games on my backlog anyway. The last game I got salty about being cancelled was Scalebound, which I’m still not over, and that was cancelled three years ago. I don’t want to see Black Myth: Wukong get cancelled, because I actually care about getting a good Monkey King game. So now I can’t stop thinking about it and there’s not even anything I can do about it. I’m a writer, not a game designer. And clearly they already got the story written. So all I can do is sit and hope other people with more useful skills make my dreams come true. What a futile existence the life of a gamer is sometimes.
I don’t really have a point to this post. I just wanted to rant about my frustrations concerning Black Myth: Wukong and the fact that I’m scared it may never actually be released. I hope one day I get to play the Monkey King game I’ve always wanted. And now I hope that game will be Black Myth: Wukong.
A couple weeks ago, we had DC Fandome. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Though I was unable to watch it live and didn’t see most of the content, I was very impressed with a number of trailers. The two game trailers I saw were for Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League (Suicide Squad) and Gotham Knights. I was impressed by both for different reasons. Though Suicide Squad didn’t show any actual gameplay, I was way more interested in that trailer based on the perceived entertainment value. But alas it’s 2020 and people on the internet of course watched the whole trailer, ignored everything, and focused only on the fact that Deadshot is Black in this upcoming game.
I was no fan of Deadshot being “reskinned” in the Suicide Squad movie. But if your only beef with the Suicide Squad movie was the fact that Deadshot was a Black guy, then you’re clearly a racist because that movie was absolute trash. Deadshot being Black was so far down the list of problems that I could do a 3 hour podcast about the movie and I wouldn’t even have time to get to that. But at the end of the day, race doesn’t matter. Continuity does. The Suicide Squad movie placed Will Smith as Deadshot in a world where no established Floyd Lawton had already existed. Meaning that while the character is usually Caucasian, it was not breaking established movie cannon to make him Black. See Samuel Jackson as Nick Fury in the MCU as another contemporary example of this practice. Fair is fair though. The Suicide Squad game is part of an established universe with a previously established Floyd Lawton. So while the race of characters shouldn’t matter to anyone, the broken continuity can and should.
During a DC Fandome interview with one of the members of Rocksteady Studios’ team, it was officially announced that the upcoming Suicide Squad game takes place in the Arkhamverse. This is the same universe as the games Batman: Arkham Origins, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Batman: Arkham City, and Batman: Arkham Knight. The interview went on to say that the game takes place after the events of Batman: Arkham Knight. This caused a number of people, having done no additional research or deductive reasoning, to immediately question and complain about the fact that the Deadshot in the Suicide Squad game trailer is Black while the Deadshot in all the preceding games, that he appears in, is Caucasian. They asked “how can this possibly be that a person’s race can just change from one game to the next?” So I have taken it upon myself to do the big brain work for them and answer this question in detail with evidence and the most basic level of logic that any comic book fan should already be privy to. Smooth brains rejoice. I’m here to tell you why/how Deadshot in the upcoming Suicide Squad game can be Black without breaking the established canon. In fact, I’ll provide you with not just one but three possible explanations based on established comic related entertainment practices. And yes I will provide citations so that you can verify all this information for yourself. And to top it all off, I will not use the “it’s just another random person using the Deadshot designation” lazy writing trick that can and has been applied to countless characters throughout comic book history including Batman himself at times. Let’s go to work.
Explanation 1: Totally Easy Bad Writer’s Answer
For those who don’t actually care and just want any answer based on some past comic related work, I present to you the Hooded Justice explanation. Hooded Justice is a character from the Minutemen. The Minutemen were a precursor group to the Watchmen, the titular crime fighting team from Allan Moore’s iconic graphic novel.
In the Watchmen HBO series, setup as a sequel to the original graphic novel, it is revealed that Hooded Justice was actually an African American dawning white face paint around his eyes in order to hide his race. While this new iteration of Deadshot shows his entire face at times, it’s still very possible that his entire identity is hidden behind a lifelike mask. We’ve seen this countless times in a variety of comic related works. Sir Reginald Hargreeves of The Umbrella Academy is really an alien wearing a facemask. Clayface of the Batman Rogues Gallery is constantly dawning the appearances of other people. It’s highly possible and believable that this version of Deadshot is really just the same Caucasian man in an elaborate disguise.
Note I don’t actually like this explanation, but it would be an easy way to get around this canon issue that’s been used in comics countless times.
Explanation 2: Less Easy But Still Lazy Average Writer’s Answer
The lazy way to do anything in comic books is to use science fiction. In a world where aliens run amok, super powers are created by lab accidents, and a city of highly intelligent gorillas with Wakanda level cloaking technology just sort of exists you can pretty much get away with anything just by saying the word “technology”. In this case that technology is nanomachines.
Nanomachines have been used in movies, games, and comics in order to explain away any number of continuity errors. In the G.I. Joe movies, Cobra Commander uses nanomachines to transform Zartan into an identical copy of the President. The entire premise of later Metal Gear Solid titles is that nanomachines can do anything, giving people the ability to have super powers, rapidly heal, change their appearance, and survive deadly poison. They’re also used in countless manga series such as Battle Angel Alita, Black Cat, and Project ARMS. You can pretty much say nanomachines to justify anything and writers have on countless occasions.
It would be easy for the writers to say Deadshot completely changed his appearance to that of an African American in order to go deep undercover for a job using nanomachines. I don’t like this explanation either but I do think it’s funny that this is essentially what my playthough of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain was like. I created a Black character only to then have them transform him into a copy of Big Boss, which wasn’t revealed until the end.
Explanation 3: Big Brain Great Writer’s Answer
This is what I believe the explanation actually will/should be. Floyd Lawton first encountered Batman in Batman: Arkham Origins when he was hired by the Joker, posing as Black Mask, to kill Batman. He of course failed to complete the job, but that’s irrelevant here. According to the Arkham wiki, Deadshot was 27 during this first encounter with Batman. Let’s examine why that specific age is important.
Deadshot is an ex-military sniper that gained acclaim for his perfect execution of countless hits. Even before becoming a freelance assassin, he had already gained prestige for backing up his future signature line “I never miss.” Eventually he was dishonorably discharged from the military as his behavior became more volatile and the level of risks he took on to complete hits became untenable. Now this is where we need to make some assumptions. So let me start by saying remember that the point is not to justify a Black Deadshot in the upcoming Suicide Squad game with 100% undebatable accuracy, but rather to justify him within a reasonable and believable explanation that works within the established canon without being lazy. You may not agree with some of the assumptions I’m about to make, but you will have no valid reason to dispute them based on the available evidence within both the canon and reality.
If the Joker hired Deadshot to assassinate his arch nemesis, then we need to assume that Deadshot was already a well-established and highly respected hitman by the time of Batman: Arkham Origins. The Joker wouldn’t have hired an amateur or unknown hitman for that job. So we have to assume that Deadshot had already been discharged from the military and established himself as a hitman by this point, which again was at age 27 for Floyd Lawton. So I am going to make the assumption that he had been discharged at age 23. Why 23? Because that’s a period of four years between Lawton being discharged from the military and first meeting Batman. Though possible, it makes little sense to assume that a military sniper that was actively fighting for his country would automatically go from that to hired gun overnight. This is even more true when you consider that Lawton suffers from clinical depression (you can verify this claim in the wiki as well). So I think it’s fair to assume that Lawton spent up to two years trying to get his life together after being discharged and then after realizing he didn’t have any options he decided to become a gun for hire in order to support himself and his family. Meaning that he was 25 years old when he first became Deadshot. We’ll get to the family part later, as it’s very important.
If Lawton spent two years post discharge before becoming an assassin, that gives him a period of two years to establish himself as a hitman worthy of the Joker hiring to kill Batman. While two years may be fast, I think a hitman as exceptional as Deadshot could reasonably have established his credibility within a two year span of time. You can also adjust the dates slightly and say it took Lawton less time to transition from being discharged from the military to becoming a hitman. The point is that I believe it’s completely reasonable to place a four year gap between Deadshot being discharged from the military and first meeting Batman in Batman: Arkham Origins. And that means that Lawton was discharged at 23 years old, again taking the wiki established age of 27 as when he first met Batman.
If we follow the timeline, we can say that Deadshot was about age 37 during the events of Batman: Arkham Knight, assuming he was/is still alive. While he did not physically appear in the game, some of his gear is shown in the Gotham PD evidence room. But whether he is alive or not isn’t really that important. What’s important is that the events of Batman: Arkham Knight take place about 10 years after those of Batman: Arkham Origins which would place Floyd Lawton at 37 years old. For reference, Batman: Arkham Asylum takes place eight years after Batman: Arkham Origins, Batman: Arkham City takes place one year after Batman: Arkham Asylum, and Batman: Arkham Knight takes place one year after Batman: Arkham City. So again, 10 years have taken place after Deadshot first encountered Batman by the end of Batman: Arkham Knight. Now let’s roll back to events pre Floyd Lawton being discharged from the military.
While this isn’t confirmed by any of the sources I found, I believe that Floyd Lawton never went to college. He went directly into the military at age 18 after graduating high school. We can call that an assumption, but I think it’s a fair one to make. Based on that assumption and the previously explained assumption that he was discharged at age 23, that means he served in the military for five years. According to a military service information site I found, the average length of service for most veterans today is four years in active duty plus an additional four years in reserve. Obviously these numbers are averages based on all service people across all branches and ranks, so they aren’t necessarily indicative of what a spec ops sniper’s military career might look like, but the fact is that based on these figures one could argue that five years in service would be long enough for Lawton to have served out his original enlistment contract and then remained in active duty for an additional year before being dishonorably discharged. When taking into account his high level of marksmanship, it’s not ridiculous to assume that he was quickly granted a sniper designation and spent most of that five years as a sniper rather than having spent a substantial amount of time as an infantryman. It also means that he had most likely already taken many lives as a sniper before actually becoming a hitman.
Depending on which story you subscribe to, Floyd Lawton’s home life was always shaky at best. I really like the way it’s developed and depicted in the Arrowverse. Lawton suffers from clear PTSD and clinical depression because he makes a living killing others in defense of his country while not always agreeing that his targets are people that deserve to be killed. This causes mental and emotional strain on his home life that directly worries and endangers his wife. In the show, but not in all comic book storylines, he has a wife and daughter. Ultimately his wife kicks him out in Arrow. I want to run that same line of reasoning. Floyd Lawton is a clinically depressed expert sniper doing hits for the US military. I also want to go along with the narrative that he married young, presumably while in the military or right before he joined at the age of 18. Now the reasons why he got married and who he married are up for negotiation in the Arkhamverse, because Deadshot’s personal life had never really been established in the past games. So I’m going to assume that he married an African American woman at the age of 20. And I will go one step further and say the reason Floyd Lawton got married at 20 while working as a sniper for the military is that he knocked up that African American woman. Conversely, he could have also had an affair with an African American women at the age of 20. This is no less believable or possible for a military sniper suffering from clinical depression and PTSD that has problems at home because of his troubled mental state.
This is all very believable, age appropriate, and does not break canon. Floyd Lawton had a Black son with a Black woman at age 20 while serving in the military as a special ops sniper. Three years later, he was dishonorably discharged. Over the course of two years, after being discharged, his clinical depression and PTSD coupled with an inability to make a legitimate income put a massive strain on his marriage ultimately causing his wife to divorce him. Heartbroken, depressed, banned from seeing his son, and broke, Floyd Lawton returned to the only thing he had even been good at: long range assassinations. Thus Deadshot was born at age 25. An expert level sniper with military training, clinical depression, and an estranged ex-wife with a son he wasn’t allowed to see. The son’s name is Floyd Lawton Jr. Fast forward to the events of Batman: Arkham Knight and Floyd Lawton Senior is 37 years old while being either dead, in prison, or retired. We can assume one of these three outcomes is true because again his effects are on display in the Gotham PD evidence locker. It doesn’t actually matter which of three outcomes it is as long as we accept that he’s not working under the name Deadshot anymore.
During the events of Floyd Lawton senior’s life as Deadshot, Floyd Lawton Junior was an African American boy being raised by his mother. We can assume that Deadshot sent them money, because Floyd Lawton was never depicted as an irresponsible asshole who would just leave his wife and child to starve. But we can assume that his not being around was still hard on his wife and son. His wife most likely suffered some form of loneliness and depression coupled with fear that she couldn’t remarry because Floyd Lawton might come back and murder her new husband out of jealousy. This is a fair assumption for a scared wife to make given his fragile mental state was the reason she threw him out to begin with. So Floyd Lawton Junior was a single child that spent most of his life watching his mother battle depression and solitary parenthood. He also had to grow up without a father.
In true comic book style, Floyd Lawton Junior’s troubled upbringing led him to resent his father. And as happens with many comic book characters that same resentment led to him emulating his father. He grew up to also be an expert sniper and even followed the career of Deadshot in order to learn about his father’s achievements and try to emulate and ultimately surpass them. But he was not raised with the moralistic and patriotic backbone that his father had, so Floyd Lawton Junior didn’t join the military. He went straight into contract killing. If Floyd Lawton Junior was born when Lawton senior was 20, then that makes him 17 at the time Batman: Arkham Knight. While I can’t yet confirm this, I’d like to say the Suicide Squad game will take place at least three years after the events of Batman: Arkham Knight. Technically it’s releasing seven years later, but I won’t even jump that far ahead. Just give me three years of time between the two games. Doing that places Floyd Lawton Junior at 20 years old during the time of the Suicide Squad game.
As I already stated, Floyd Lawton Senior probably joined the military at 18 years old. So while the path isn’t exactly the same for his son, I don’t think it’s ridiculous to say that Floyd Lawton Junior got into contract killing at 18 rather than join the military like his father. Two years later he was captured by Amanda Waller and Argus and forced into the Suicide Squad at the age of 20.
Some will say that they think Deadshot looks older than 20 in the Suicide Squad trailer, but this is a subjective assumption. Given how African Americans age, it’s completely acceptable to assume that character is as young as 20 years old. How many times have we seen African American males vaguely profiled by law enforcement during manhunts with wide potential age ranges? That character could be 20 or 40 and there’d be no objective way to tell without being given a character dossier to confirm his age. Also, the trailer plays him off to be more cocky than the classic Deadshot of past Arkham games. He invokes the phrase “I never miss” causing all the characters to groan and mock him because he apparently says it so often. What if he says it all the time because really he’s trying to live up to his father’s reputation and has a chip on his shoulder about it, as many sons who resent their fathers often do. “I never miss” is his way of declaring that he’s just as talented if not even more talented than his father. And again, I’m assuming Floyd Lawton Junior was conceived when Floyd Lawton Senior was 20 and that Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League takes place only three years after the events of Batman: Arkham Knight. It would be just as believable within the canon to say that Junior was conceived when Senior was 18 and that Suicide Squad takes place up to seven years, or even more if you want to ignore the year of release as the setting, putting Floyd Lawton Junior at upwards of at least 29 years old or even older. Some will of course argue that this many years in the future can’t be the case because of how young Harley Quinn looks, but I’d counter that line of reasoning by asking “how old does Harley Quinn actually look?”
There are two things to consider when analyzing Harley Quinn’s age. The first is that she never ages. In all the Batman properties you’ve seen, Harley Quinn has always been an early to mid-20’s looking blonde girl with a childlike demeanor. Even while ignoring the fact that she was a successful psychologist at Arkham Asylum with a PhD before becoming the infamous co-conspirator of the Clown Prince of Crime. By all rights she wasn’t in her mid-twenties even when she first became Harley Quinn. She would have finished her undergrad at about 22 years old and then needed at least another four to five years minimum to obtain her PhD in psychology. Then she would have had to do a residency before being placed as the head psychologist at a place with inmates as infamous as Arkham Asylum. So really she’s at least in her late 20’s to early 30’s during her first appearance in Batman: Arkham Asylum as Harley Quinn. Yet she also appears in Batman: Arkham Origins pre-transformation as Dr. Harleen Quinzel. At this point she’s either in the midst of her residency at Blackgate Prison under Dr. Hugo Strange, making her at least in her mid to late twenties. Or she’s post residency and already working at Arkham Asylum, putting her in either her late twenties or early 30’s. Remember that Batman: Arkham Asylum takes place eight years after the events of Batman: Arkham Origins. So based on that she’s gotta be in at least her early 40’s by the time Batman Arkham: Knight happens by even the most conservative estimate of her age. She’s never actually been depicted accurately for her age within the Arkhamverse, if at all.
Second, Harley Quinn is constantly caked in clown makeup. You don’t actually have any idea how old she is because you’ve pretty much never seen her in her natural appearance other than during that one sequence in Batman: Arkham Origins. She could be covered in wrinkles with massive crow’s feet and you’d have no idea. Her blonde pigtails, perky breasts, and childish demeanor coupled with acrobatics abilities make you think she’s a young girl barely pushing her late 20’s but that’s just an illusion you tell yourself so you don’t have to reconsider or analyze the childish sex fantasies you’ve been having since Batman: The Animated Series. By even the most conservative estimate, there is absolutely no way that Harley Quin can be less than 40 years old in the Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League trailer. She’s either being depicted falsely, she’s not the original Harleen Quinzel, or she’s had massive plastic surgery all over her body. Since this is comic book rules it could also be some sort of anti-aging serum or the aforementioned nanomachines. In any case, using her perceived age as the main reason why the current Deadshot can’t be the now half-African American adult son of the retired original Caucasian Deadshot is completely ridiculous.
If you don’t like that Deadshot is Black, that’s fine. You’re entitled to your opinion. But please don’t pretend like there’s no way that an adult aged Deadshot can be Black in the upcoming sequel to Batman: Arkham Knight because it doesn’t make sense in the canon. Because that’s absolutely not true, which I very clearly just proved. If you’re a racist, just own it. Don’t invoke canon when you haven’t taken the time to research it. Because I have taken the time to research it and let me tell you that a Black Deadshot is the least of the questions you should have about that trailer. For instance, when did Captain Boomerang get teleportation powers? That’s a question that I can’t find of justify an answer for based on the established canon.
Now I don’t work for Rocksteady Studios (though I’d take a job there as a writer if offered *hint hint*) but I assume they’ve taken way more time than the 30 minutes it took me to come up with this explanation. They obviously know the canon even better than I do and have a whole team of writers and continuity analysts to make sure that everything makes sense. Not to mention Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment publisher oversight constantly asking questions. To think that they haven’t already addressed this issue in a way that’s even better than the explanation I came up with is just willful foolishness. You don’t spend years making a game just so Twitter racists can tear it apart after seeing one trailer. That plot hole will definitely be addressed at some point. I for one can’t wait to try out this game and if I wasn’t a Captain Boomerang fan I’d probably be planning to main Floyd Lawton Junior aka Deadshot.
Last month, SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated launched to mixed reviews. This is another release within the current trend of remastering older games rather than building new ones and releasing them at modern prices. This particular title launched at $30, which is technically considered a good deal for a remaster at this point. I was not able to find the launch price of the original PS2 game for comparison though. What I want to focus on in this post is the reviews/reception of the remake.
Interestingly, the formal media reviews for this remaster are rather low. GameSpot gave it a 2/10. IGN gave it a 5/10. The Metacritic score is at 67 at the time of writing this. And yet the user response has been exceedingly positive with a Metacritic score of 91. Of more than 3,000 user reviews on Steam, the game is showing overwhelmingly positive results. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a large disagreement between the media and the public. The Last of Us Part II has had similar results recently as well. But the reasons for those gaps differ considerably between the two games. In the case of SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated, it seems to be an issue of expectations.
I do not have a lot of experience playing remasters as remasters. What I mean by this is that rarely do I play a remaster of a game I beat previously. Almost all the remasters I play are of games that I didn’t get to play the original version of. This is intentional because in general I don’t replay games often and I’m less likely to purchase a story based game that I’ve already experienced in some form. For me, remasters are only valuable when it’s of games I haven’t played before. So while I’ll never buy a remaster of Final Fantasy X, even though it’s still my favorite FF game, I’d absolutely consider buying a remaster of Final Fantasy IX, since I never played that one. The last remaster I bought for a game I had already beaten was Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy and if I’m honest that was mostly to play that added level that was said to be impossible. Sadly it is . . . But I digress. I tend to be an outlier when it comes to remasters though. It’s my understanding that the bulk of people who buy them actually are people who played the original games. In my opinion, these considerably different schools of thinking around the value/use of remasters pose a conflict about how they should be reviewed.
My belief is that the purpose of a review is to inform the reader/viewer in order to help them make a buying decision. A review helping someone decide not to buy a game is just as valid and successful as a review helping someone decide to buy one. I have said this in many past posts. But in the case of remasters we are looking at two vastly different audiences. As I said, when I play a remaster it’s usually my first time experiencing the game. Thus I judge it as a new game compared to the games released around the same time that it was. I’m not going to compare a game released in 2020 to games released in 2003. That’s an unfair advantage that won’t properly inform people about whether or not a game is worth buying in 2020. But if you’re playing it as a remastered experience of a game you’ve already played, then your judgement of the game will almost certainly be much different from mine.
A person playing a remaster as a repeated experience with improvements is of course going to compare it to its original. Possibly only its original and not any other games. Certainly not any contemporary ones other than other remakes of games from the same time as the original. This sets a much lower bar for the game though. It’s way easier to outperform a game made almost two decades earlier that’s otherwise exactly the same. That basically just means make the graphics and audio better while doing almost nothing to the gameplay except fixing bugs. And from what I’ve read that’s exactly what SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated is. A carbon copy of the original PS2 game with considerably better graphics. In fact, that’s how the official trailer markets the game. And let me be clear in saying that that’s really all I want from any remaster. Make the exact same game with modern graphics. I was actually almost motivated to buy SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated for this very reason, since I never played the original game. But I’m also very aware that if I was to review the game, it would probably get a low score from me based on modern game design conventions. Assuming that the gameplay has aged badly. If the gameplay and writing was great to begin with then there’s a solid chance it would get a really high score from me based on my strict style of review scoring by category. But what’s the right way to review a remaster?
The GameSpot review judges the game by modern standards, often citing the game’s lack of evolution from the original as its greatest flaw. One quote from the review expresses the writer’s position on the issue very well:
“Remasters, ports, and remakes are nice because they make games more accessible to new audiences, and the ones that excel understand that some features from the game’s era are antiquated and should be updated or removed.”
In many ways the writer seems to have judged the game the way I would have; treating it as a modern game and comparing it directly to other 3D platformer collectathons released in 2020. That’s super informative for people like me, who didn’t play the original. But such thinking ignores the perspective and desire of people who did play the original and want to relive that. It also doesn’t address the question of who the remake is intended for. I’d argue that Final Fantasy VII Remake isn’t for OG FFVII fans. They can play it and enjoy it, but I don’t think it was made for them. I think it was made for new audiences, which falls in line with the GameSpot reviewer’s opinion on remakes. But it sounds to me like SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated was created for OG fans. That means a completely different set of expectations for the target audience than the one implied by the writer. And yet I wouldn’t call the GameSpot review a misrepresentation of the game.
In many ways this presents the entire problem with remasters, ports, and remakes. There is no agreed upon purpose, standard, or target audience behind them. There’s really no basis or justification for how to make them. Every team just sort of does whatever they feel like doing. That may sound nice in the fact that it grants some level of freedom to each studio, but it also makes the task of reviewing these sorts of projects inconsistent, sometimes unintentionally misleading, and can lead to ultimately negative reviews and low scores, as seen with SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated. Really something so subjective and seemingly innocuous as review scores shouldn’t matter much but games, and the salaries of those who make them, are often affected by review and Metacritic scores. It shouldn’t be that way but it is. So there actually are real consequences to reviewers, and the gaming industry/community as a whole, not having agreed upon standards and expectations about remasters, how to review them, and who their target audiences even are.
Ultimately it was the GameSpot review that helped me to decide not to buy SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated. Not because of the score but the content of the review. But how many people didn’t even read the review after seeing a 2/10 score?
If you read my blog regularly, then you may have noticed that I did not do posts about either the Ghost of Tsushima or The Last of Us Part IIState of Play presentations. This should have seemed strange to my normal readers because up until this point I have done a post about every State of Play episode since the beginning. So I wanted to talk about why I chose not to do posts for those two presentations and will continue not to do posts for State of Play presentations done in the same style as those ones moving forward.
I really like the original State of Play format. It’s very similar to the Nintendo Direct format, but in some ways I like it even better. I won’t go into too much detail, because I’ve already written at length about this previously. But basically what I like(d) about the State of Play format was the highly informative, time efficient, look at multiple upcoming games. Even more so did I value the fact that they often gave time to games that were not highly anticipated AAA titles that had already been hyped up for more than a year. These recent single game presentations have betrayed that original format/style.
The last two State of Plays were your run of the mill AAA E3 presentations done via video. You could have taken either one of those presentations and played them live at E3 and they would have been no different. And I think it’s fairly obvious that they happened because E3 will no longer be happening this year. And let me state clearly that I have no problem with such presentations and that I was already planning on buying both of those games. I’m especially excited for Ghost of Tsushima and preordered the Special Edition before this presentation even went live. What I do have a problem with is that these presentations are being given the State of Play label.
By labeling these extended single game presentations as State of Play episodes, SONY has essentially betrayed the original format and altered it to be pretty much any game related content they choose to put out digitally. That’s a bad thing, in my opinion. It’s disorganized and completely derails the user base’s ability to set expectations for future State of Play episodes. The next time we get a State of Play announcement, we will have no way of accurately setting expectations for what it will be. Will it be a single game presentation, multiple snapshots of upcoming indie games, a new game announcement, or something completely different? Note that I’m not saying that any of those types of content is more of less valuable than any others. What I’m saying is that users have varied interests and should be able to decide whether or not they want to watch a presentation before hand based on the expectations of what it will be. But SONY has removed our ability to accurately set those expectations, thereby trying to manipulate everyone into sitting through presentations they may or may not have an interest in.
The weirdest thing is the fact that the, now rightfully delayed, June 4thPS5 presentation wasn’t labeled as State of Play. This was billed as a presentation of upcoming games by multiple studios of various sizes. Other than the longer running time, this was way more in line with the original State of Play format than the single game presentations and yet they labeled it The Future of Gaming. So the question I have is why create an entirely new name for this presentation that falls more in line with the original State of Play format while not creating a different name for presentations that don’t fall in line with the original format?
Truthfully they didn’t even need to give those single game presentations a label to begin with. They could have just billed them as gameplay presentations of their respective games. That is a commonly occurring form of content released by publishers and developers. The decision to label them both as State of Play presentations was an intentional one and I find that disappointing. Because I want more of the original State of Play format content. I don’t want the only type of presentations from PlayStation to be long form presentations of AAA titles I already know I’m going to buy. That type of content is pretty much useless to any informed gamer. It just builds hype. I know plenty of people who didn’t even watch The Last of Us Part II presentation because they had either already decided to buy it or already decided not to buy it, because we’ve already seen previous presentations, hype build up, and for some the leaks. Meaning the presentation did very little to push people in either direction. Whereas a presentation of upcoming titles that weren’t already super hyped and highly anticipated would have been much more valuable and informative to a larger number of players.
I know I probably sound like Grandpa Simpson yelling at clouds, but these sorts of choices are important. They can mean the difference between calling attention to an otherwise unknown game and getting it some much needed, and often deserved, time in the spotlight and an indie studio going bankrupt. They also affect users. I don’t necessarily care to watch an extended gameplay presentation of a game I’m already decided on. But I absolutely want to watch a presentation of multiple game announcements or snapshots for titles I’m not aware of or familiar with. And like most people, my time is both limited and valuable to me. But next time SONY says a State of Play is incoming I won’t necessarily know what to expect. So in a way they’ve taken away my agency as a viewer because I’ll potentially be going in blind and can very possibly be highly disappointed with the content. Not because the content is necessarily bad. But because it’s content I have no interest in watching.
Again, I like the original State of Play format. I’m sad to see it already being betrayed after only four episodes. I hope SONY hasn’t decided to kill it off altogether this early on and opted for exclusively traditional single AAA gameplay presentations. For me, that would be a real tragedy. It’s only because of the State of Play presentations that I took a serious interest in games like Untitled Goose Game, Predator: Hunting Grounds, and Wattam. And it doesn’t matter if any or all of the games were ultimately good or bad. Predator: Hunting Grounds is bad by the way. What matters is that the State of Play episodes got me looking at games that I otherwise was never going to consider buying or probably even trying. That’s what the original format of State of Play was accomplishing: alerting gamers to games they may not have had on the radar. And that’s what it needs to continue to do. As such, if PlayStation continues to put out State of Plays as AAA game presentations for games that have already been hyped up and had lots of previous content released, then I will continue to not cover them on this blog. Because talking to you about previews we didn’t need serves even less purpose than the presentations themselves. It makes more sense just to wait and review the full games after I’ve played them at that point.
I’m not really big on director’s cuts of movies. Or more accurately, I’m not really big on the idea of multiple cuts of movies existing and being distributed. I want the theatrical cut of a movie to be the director’s cut. The entire concept of director’s cuts irritates me because it assumes that not only do I want to watch a movie a second time, but that I want to pay additional money to do so with the promise of a bit more footage. In my opinion, they should just let directors direct. But producers actually control a production a lot more than many people realize. The truth is that 9 times out of 10 you’re actually watching the producers cut of a movie.
The most interesting thing about this odd dynamic between producers and directors is that the people have been conditioned to favor directors while not really caring about producers. Think about how movies are billed. Producers are always listed in the opening credits, on posters, and in ads, but they’re never the focus. People are sold on the director and actors. Most don’t care in the slightest bit about who the producer is unless they’re currently being accused of sexual assault or heading a larger franchise like Kevin Feige at Marvel. But for a majority of films, regular people don’t really care about producer credits. And yet producers hold all the power. We’ve even seen productions where a director was fired simply because producers felt like they weren’t being shown enough respect. But still the movie marketing machine pushes people towards favoring directors rather than producers.
The director’s cut concept is a money making scheme that only works because of this relationship between producers and directors. But up until now it didn’t matter that much in most cases. Think about what director’s cuts actually accomplish. They give people the opportunity to rewatch a movie with a few additional scenes and rarely affect anything important about the story. Even in the case of a franchise, they usually don’t affect much. Look at The Lord of the Rings trilogy by Peter Jackson as an example. The extended director’s cuts add in some scenes for the sake of lore, but don’t really alter the story in significant ways. Of course part of this probably comes from the fact that Peter Jackson was both director and producer on those films. This is often the case with bigger productions. But it’s not always the case. TheAvengers (2012) was written and directed by Joss Whedon but the only listed producer credit is Kevin Feige. While we of course couldn’t speak to the dynamic between them during production, on paper Kevin Feige was in charge of that production. Whedon was simply the instrument being used to create his vision. And yet it was Whedon who wrote the script. And notice that there is no director’s cut of the film available. There is an extended cut with a few extra scenes, but in no way has the marketing ever implied that the theatrical version and the home release version were significantly different films.
The real question is what happens when the dynamic changes from producer vs director to producer vs director vs director? The public has always been fed the idea that directors and producers often disagree and that this is the reason director’s cuts exist. But never before have we seen a scenario where a movie was released and then the same movie was remade by a second director with the same footage. This is completely different from the idea of a theatrical release vs a director’s cut. This would be two completely different movies with completely different visions. And technically producers could still disagree with both versions of the movie leading to two sets of theatrical versions and director’s cuts.
Releasing two completely different versions of the same film by two different directors is problematic. Doing it as part of an established franchise with an interconnected set of films is an absolute shit show. Think about how much people already fight over things like canon in nerd franchises. Now apply that to a comic book universe where two different directors make the same film in the timeline. It has the potential to be continuity chaos. With all that being said, let’s discuss the Snyder Cut.
The Snyder Cut refers to an alternate version of the film Justice League (2017). For the purposes of accuracy, I will give a detailed summary of the entire Snyder Cut controversy here. Many people are either not aware of the situation or are working with incomplete and/or inaccurate information. So I will summarize my interpretation of the situation, based on the reports I’ve read, here:
After the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase One (Six films released between 2008 – 2012), DC/Warner Brothers decided that they could create a similar level of success with the Justice League comic pantheon. This would go on to be called the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) They decided that rather than try to copy and paste the Marvel tone and style that they would create a darker toned cinematic universe. They also wanted to get their first big crossover film out before the MCU released their culminating crossover film (Avengers: Infinity War). Zack Snyder was chosen to head the project. Or at least he was chosen to be the lead director if you want to be entirely accurate. With darker toned comic films under his belt such as 300 and Watchmen, this seemed like a fine choice for a darker toned cinematic comic book movie universe. Snyder directed both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the first two films in the DCEU. For the most part, people weren’t happy with either film. Neither film has above a 60% on Rotten Tomatoes. And Batman v Superman, the latter of the two has exactly half the score of Man of Steel. In both cases, the audience scores are significantly higher, but neither gets above 75% and Man of Steel still ranks higher than Batman v Superman. Meaning both the critical and public response to the DCEU films by Zack Snyder were received less than successfully and were dropping in approval from film to film. At the same time, both films were financially successful, bringing in more than double their production budgets in box office receipts. As such, Warner Brothers chose to have Snyder direct Justice League, which would serve as the equivalent to The Avengers (2012).
Zack Snyder started Justice League and it was reported that he produced an unfinished but technically entire draft of the film. Meaning that shooting had been completed but editing and reshoots had not been finalized. His daughter died during post production of the film. That’s an important detail. She died during post production of the film. This confirms that a complete draft of the film was produced. It just hadn’t been finalized. Due to the tragedy of losing a child, Snyder resigned from the project and was replaced by Joss Whedon, the writer and director of The Avengers. It’s important to note that a majority of people believed and accepted this story at the time of reporting. No one was unhappy with Snyder for leaving the project to mourn his daughter. And pretty much no one took issue with the idea of bringing in Joss Whedon for post-production, as a director proven to be capable of creating both critically and financially successful ensemble comic book films. Ultimately Justice League sucked, but was also financially successful, more than doubling its production budget in box office receipts. Technically speaking, it sucked less than Batman v Superman but more than Man of Steel both critically and to the public, based on Rotten Tomatoes critical and audience scores. But people decided to ignore this fact and argued that Snyder would have made a better movie. This is where things get tricky.
It’s only because Justice League was disappointing that people turned on Joss Whedon. If the movie had been as good as The Avengers, the conversation would have ended there. In the same way, it’s only because the movie sucked that people supported Snyder. People were not happy with Snyder ‘s first two DCEU films. But they were so unhappy with Justice League that they wanted to believe that Snyder’s film would have been better. This was coupled with the fact that it had been announced that an actual full cut of the film had already been produced by Snyder. Again, he left the project during post production. But really the most important detail in this entire story is the fact that after Justice League released, and sucked, it was reported that the producers actually didn’t like Snyder’s cut of the movie. Suddenly conspiracies saying that the producers had actually wanted to fire Snyder from the project but were able to use his daughter’s death as an amicable way out were going viral. Essentially people invented a story that made it seem like Snyder originally made a completely different film than what was released and that the evil woke producers, with the help of Joss Whedon, killed Snyder’s vision and released what again was a critically and publicly better received film than Snyder’s last DCEU film. It was these conspiracy theories that led to the #ReleaseThe SnyderCut movement.
For the past three years, people have campaigned unceasingly that they want to see Zack Snyder’s version of Justice League. For most of that time, Warner Brothers stated that they would absolutely not release that version of the film. This makes sense for two major reasons. First, it is extremely rude to Joss Whedon, who again not only produced a better received film than Snyder’s last DCEU project, but also a financially successful film. Joss Whedon did what he was hired to do. Directors are hired by producers to make financially successful films. That’s all they’re expected to do. Winning awards is nice. Making fans happy is nice. But those aren’t a director’s job. A director’s job is to make producers money by delivering financially successful movies. Joss Whedon succeeded in this endeavor with his cut of Justice League. The other equally important reason that Warner Brothers didn’t want to release an alternate version of the film, ignoring the fact that it’s pretty much never been done before, is that it would be a continuity nightmare.
Three other films within the same universe as Justice League have already been released with more films on the way, one of which is already completed and another already in post-production. All of those films potentially don’t make sense depending on the events that take place in an alternate version of a crossover event film. What if someone dies? What if someone lives? What if a dynamic changes? What if a special item is lost or found? The idea of releasing an alternate version of a key film in the timeline four years after the fact is world building suicide. After three years of campaigning, HBO was allowed to purchase the distribution rights to the Snyder cut of Justice League from Warner Brothers. HBO realized the cut was in fact garbage but knew that the public would pay to see it. So they paid Snyder to recut the film and are investing additional funds to do reshoots and additional CGI. The “new” Snyder cut will be available for HBO Max subscribers in 2021. That brings us to today.
I do believe in the power of the consumers. I believe that through diligence and organization we the people can accomplish great things. I often think back to Star Wars: Battlefront II and how the public demanded change and got it. Another example is the XBOX One and the always online announcement. So even though I absolutely don’t agree with them in this case, I respect the commitment shown by the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut people. Ultimately I’m disappointed by how this appears to be ending though.
Let me be clear in saying that while I respect their right to campaign, personally I’m 100% against this release the Snyder cut movement. I think it sets a terrible precedent for entertainment media. Especially for creators. If people can just decide that because they don’t like something it has to change then that means those who create have no say in the works they produce. We’ve already seen movements to recast actors in certain roles, fire directors, and reshoot entire seasons of shows. We’ve seen fan reedits of films and deep fakes removing/replacing actors in movies. This is not a good thing. People spend their lives trying to make things and people being able to just change them or say they don’t exist shouldn’t be considered a viable option. I’m fine with people not supporting something they don’t like. I encourage people to withhold their money and choose not to participate in games or movies they take issue with in order to vote with their wallet. But I do not support the idea of people being able to negate things that have already been produced. Movements should shape the future, not the past. If you were unhappy with the last three Star Wars films then you should let Disney know that by not paying to see the next one. This in turn will hopefully lead to the change you want to see in how the films are made. But no matter how unhappy you were with the films you should not be able to dictate that Daisy Ridley, Kelly Marie Tran, or John Boyega weren’t ever in Star Wars. Because that’s not true nor is it fair to those actors that spent their lives trying to make it as actors. They deserve recognition for the work they have done, even if you weren’t happy with it. As much as I hated The Last Jedi, I’d never argue that Rian Johnson’s name should be taken off the project.
I’m also a big stickler about canon. I like connected universes and intertwined plots. I like that some small detail revealed in one movie comes back and ultimately shapes the plot of another character’s movie much later. That sort of universe construction can’t work in a scenario where films can be changed or redone at the whim of the people. The alternative is badly produced one off films that sort of connect to each other based on recurring actors and names. Look at the X-Men cinematic universe as the best example of this. 10 movies that are sort of related, filled with plot holes, and almost no coherency or general direction. Plus two Deadpool films if you want to get technical. And most of those movies are carried more by Hugh Jackman’s acting and special effects than the quality of the writing or general interest in the other characters. Which is a tragedy considering how good the X-Men characters and stories from the comics and cartoon are. But that’s exactly what happens when you create a franchise of movies with no defined direction and change installments based on the whims of the people after the fact. And that’s still not as problematic for canon as rereleasing films a second time would be. How will canon be defined in the DCEU moving forward? Will the events of the original release still count or will changes in the Snyder cut be considered valid canon? Will people now be forced to watch multiple versions of the same movie and debate what counts moving forward? These are questions that no one seems to be asking. So no I am not in support of the Snyder cut.
While I am absolutely not in support of the Snyder cut being released, I do support the idea of the people’s demands being met in response to their avid dedication to sticking to their demands. That’s why I am very unhappy with how this whole situation has ultimately turned out. The people who campaigned think they won, but in reality they’ve been conned. I’ve already been seeing people declare victory since the official HBO announcement of the Snyder cut release next year, but the truth is that they’re not actually getting what they demanded. We were told that a version of Justice League exists that was already completed by Zack Snyder. It was rumored that the producers didn’t like this cut. Because people didn’t like the Whedon cut, so they demanded the Snyder cut. But that demand was based on the understanding that such a cut of the film already exists. Yet that’s not what is being delivered. If such a cut really does exist, there’s no need to wait for 2021. They could release it today. Instead they’re investing millions of dollars to bring back the actors to do reshoots, adding CGI, and letting Snyder take another crack at cutting the film.
Let’s be very clear about what’s happening. Three years of criticism, debate, blog posts, and film reviews have been released stating what’s wrong with Justice League, a movie originally shot by Zack Snyder but credited to Whedon based on last minute edits and a few rumored reshoots. We’re not gonna get to see the Snyder cut. We’re gonna get to see the Snyder mulligan cut. He knows what made the people angry. He now knows what will make the people happy and what wouldn’t have worked in his cut. He’s being given the budget to reshoot and reedit vast sections of the movie. That movie better be damn great. And there’s no reason it shouldn’t be. But that’s not how movies are made. Any movie could be great the second time around. Imagine if J.J. Abrams could just redo Star Wars Episodes VII – IX. Imagine how much better they would be and how much more people would like them. That’s not real film making. Making a movie is about risk. It’s about reading the fanbase and trying to impress them while also trying to surprise them, without making them angry. If you already know exactly what makes them angry and what makes them happy, you can’t really mess up the movie. But that’s not an honest film making scenario. I would want to see the real Snyder cut. I assume it would be shit, but I’d watch it anyway. I don’t want to see Snyder get the easiest golden parachute film making scenario ever conceived so that people end up praising him even though his first two DCEU movies were at best OK and at worst hot garbage. But that’s exactly what’s going to happen. The Snyder cut movement is getting conned into subscribing to HBO Max to not watch the movie they fought for 3 years to see. And they’re thankful for it. That’s really depressing. That level of blatant and out in the open manipulation pisses me off something fierce. The hashtag was #ReleaseTheSnyderCut, not #ReleaseTheSnyderReCut. These people didn’t win. At best they tied.
The thing that makes me really mad is that it appears that this whole movement isn’t over. I’m not surprised because I’ve already stated my fears for filmmaking moving forward, but it hasn’t even been a month and I’m already seeing new hashtags like #ReleaseTheAyerCut in reference to Suicide Squad. As if there’s some other version of that film that isn’t a dumpster fire. This is the problem with allowing post-release alternative versions of films. People will no longer accept any movie as is if they don’t like it. They will just assume they’re being lied to and that producers are snubbing directors from presenting their vision. I hope this whole line of reasoning ends here, but if it doesn’t the future of cinema, and arguably all plot based entertainment media, is in for hard times.
Last week, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) formally announced the cancellation of E3 2020. Or more specifically they officially announced the cancellation of the digital E3 2020 event that they had previously announced would take place due to the cancellation of the regular on site E3 event, because of the coronavirus pandemic. To be fully accurate, what originally happened was SONY, among other entities that usually are expected to attend E3, decided not to attend this year because of the coronavirus. Eventually enough companies, and media personalities if we’re being completely honest, decided not to follow SONY’s lead causing the ESA to decide it was in their best interests to cancel the physical event altogether. Almost certainly due to projected financial losses. But rather than formally cancelling, they decided to try to save face by promising a digital event in place of the normal physical event. Now they have cancelled that as well. In my professional opinion, I have to say that this is the final straw for E3.
Even without the coronavirus, making E3 into a digital event makes a ton of sense. It’s more cost effective, more accessible to more people, and allows companies with lower budgets a better chance at being able to participate. Honestly there’s little reason for E3 to continue to exist in its current form and this has been the case for years. Note that I am not saying that there is no place for a Los Angeles based physical video game event in the current video game industry. What I am saying is that E3 should no longer be managed and treated like it’s as important as it currently is. E3 today should really be more like a Gamescom or Tokyo Game Show where it’s just another event where companies can and sometimes do announce things but ultimately it’s just about interacting with fans and local business interests for convenience sake. It should no longer be the end all of game industry events. But that’s not even really what I want to discuss today. I want to talk about the fact that E3 is now for all intents and purposes dead.
The promise of a digital E3 event was kind of a tall order to begin with if we’re being honest. See Nintendo’s E3Direct every year doesn’t actually have anything to do with E3. They simply create a presentation independently and just choose to release it during E3 at a scheduled time based on the presentation schedule, which is publicly available. And because Nintendo is such an important player, the ESA chooses to stream the Nintendo Direct on site because they know if they didn’t people would take the time to go watch it, thus reducing traffic at E3 during the presentation. Nintendo does still participate at E3 by putting up a booth, but in terms of announcements and a presentation, that’s all handled outside of E3 and in no way is affected by the ESA. The reason E3 continued to work even after Nintendo decided to do this was because no one else decided to do it. Nintendo was essentially forced to work around E3’s schedule in order to stay relevant in the gaming news cycle. But if no one is presenting live then suddenly there is no E3 news cycle. There’s just a bunch of digital presentations by different companies. Why would any company allow the ESA to manage and police the release of their gaming announcements digital presentation? Nintendo doesn’t and no one else would either. And they especially wouldn’t pay a fee to release their presentation to the internet. So at that point the only thing the ESA could offer them was a scheduled announcement time surrounded by other digital presentations. But that’s not really a selling point.
If anything, you want to release your digital presentation before all the other companies or after all the other companies. Because you want to garner the most continuous attention and hype for your presentation. So really companies wouldn’t want to release their digital presentations that close to each other at all. They’d be better off picking their own random days throughout the year and being the focus of the news cycle when they do release. And if they’re smart, like Nintendo often is, they’ll make their presentation interactive. As in release a presentation that announces a downloadable demo going live that day. Or beta sign ups, etc. If it’s a digital presentation, it can be as long or as short as a company wants and include all sorts of promotional gimmicks without having to be approved by the ESA or any other external entity from said companies. And that’s true for both AAA and indie developers/publishers alike. So the prospect of a bunch of companies, especially the bigger ones like EA, Ubisoft, and Microsoft actively choosing to share the spotlight of their digital presentations with other companies’ digital presentations is pretty ridiculous. Think about the hype Nintendo Directs get throughout the year. Why would any company choose to share that limelight with their competitors, ultimately weakening the impact of their digital presentations?
The only reason events like E3 even exist is simply that putting on your own event is very expensive and hard to promote. It’s more cost effective, even though it is still very expensive, to just attend another event. So you sacrifice that spotlight by sharing it with other companies that are all in the same boat trying to save money and garner as much attention as possible. But when it comes to releasing online, everything is backwards. You want nothing to do with anyone else’s content. Imagine if by some miracle you were the only person on Twitch streaming for like three straight hours. Just by some miracle there were zero other channels streaming during that time. You would garner so much attention just because nothing else is going on at the same time. It’s the same concept for these digital presentations. So the idea of a digital E3 was built solely on hope for companies to adhere to tradition rather than sensible business decisions. And of course in 2020 we know tradition doesn’t mean shit. So no these companies were not about to turn over their digital presentations to the ESA and give them control of managing and releasing them. That was never going to happen.
Here’s why I say E3 is now dead. We’re about to have our first year with no official E3 since 1995. For the past 24 years “we” were all led to believe that it was a must. That the only way game companies could properly announce their games to the public was through this one offline event. We were told it was important for the companies, media, and public to interact with each other and share their love of gaming. And many people believe(d) this. Now suddenly we’re not only not having E3, but we’re not even going to have any large scale coordinated gaming events at all. They’re all getting cancelled or postponed and replaced with digital presentations. Mark Cerny’s GDC PS5 presentation was a great example of this. It proved that PlayStation could effectively present their new hardware ideas and intentions to developers digitally without losing any effect or hype and they saved money doing it. Not only that but they were able to garner more media attention and get the public more involved in the discussion. I wrote my first GDC related blog post this year because of that presentation, which I would not have even watched had it been a normal GDC year. SONY isn’t going to forget that. God willing this pandemic ends soon and events can go back to happening again. But don’t think for a second the companies involved are gonna just go back to the ways things were. They will see the hype, the efficiency, the reduced costs, and whatever other benefits and decide they can just keep doing it that way. That’s what’s gonna happen to E3.
For the next year, you’re gonna have every company create and distribute digital game presentations. They will all be different and specific to their companies. Some companies will copy the Nintendo Direct model and try to keep things current and relevant for the short term. Some companies will do a presentation for the next year’s worth of announcements. Some companies will create individual presentations for each game coming in their portfolio and release them periodically. But no company is going to coordinate with any other companies to release their presentations concurrently or close to each other. And what we’re all going to have to finally accept is that not only is that OK, but it’s better. It’s better for everyone involved.
Every E3 I don’t watch the presentations. I find a website like IGN or GameSpot and look at their roundup article and then watch the clips from the presentations of the games I’m interested in. Why? Because there are too many presentations to deal with in too short a time span. And a lot of the junk presented is stuff I don’t give two shits about. And when you’ve got Microsoft, SONY, Nintendo, Ubisoft, EA, Devolver Digital, and others even if you just look at two games from each one that’s still way too many games to try to reasonably keep track of and give a proper amount of time and attention to. But if instead each of those presentations was released at a completely different point in the year with nothing going on around it, I’d probably watch every presentation in its entirety. Especially right now. The number one problem with the quarantine for most people is boredom. They have nothing to do at home. Would you rather have everything thrown at you in the span of three days for you to binge and then go back to being bored or have things peppered out throughout the quarantine so that you continuously have things given to you to help combat your boredom in the long term? A singular event is really good for the company running the event, because they can turn a large profit. But for literally everyone else involved, including the audience, it’s at best a troublesome burden disguised as convenience due to travel restrictions/costs and time. But when no one can travel and everyone has too much time on their hands, a singular physical event isn’t useful at all. A singular digital event is only slightly more useful.
After this year of disconnected digital game presentations, everyone will be forced to acknowledge that it was fine. Gaming didn’t stop. Profits didn’t go down . . . due to the lack of E3 and other such events. Hype wasn’t reduced. Nothing negative will have happened to any of these larger companies because of the absence of E3. And because of that, when the ESA tries to get companies to invest a large sum of money to be featured at E3 2021, many if not all of them are going to say no. They’re gonna go the way of Nintendo and say it’s just not worth the money, labor, time, and inconvenience. At that point, the event simply won’t have enough attendees to warrant most people buying tickets. And at that point, E3 is dead as a door nail.
Change tends to come by force rather than by choice sadly. This pandemic has forced companies to change the way they announce new games. Yet these changes should have taken effect long before a pandemic because technology had already provided the means to do so more effectively, efficiently, and affordably. These changes were a long time coming. Companies and consumers only fought them out of some odd dedication to tradition. Now that tradition is being forced out, things will never be the same.
This statement from the ESA, as reported by PC Gamer, is more telling than people will probably give it credit for right now.
“Given the disruption brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, we will not be presenting an online E3 2020 event in June. Instead, we will be working with exhibitors to promote and showcase individual company announcements, including on http://www.E3expo.com, in the coming months,” the rep said. “We look forward to bringing our industry and community together in 2021 to present a reimagined E3 that will highlight new offerings and thrill our audiences.”
The shift from an online E3 event to “working with exhibitors to promote and showcase individual company announcements” is a fancy way of saying that the ESA will shift into being a promotional company similar to traditional online media. In other words, they will become leeches that garner value by promoting content created by other companies online. Now of course this statement acts as if it only applies to 2020. The ESA has already stated plans to return to normal for E3 2021. But this assumes that all the companies decide to go back to the old model. I’ve already explained why that won’t happen. In 2021, E3 will be cancelled again, but ideally it won’t be because of coronavirus. It will be due to lack of participation. And once again the ESA will be “working with exhibitors to promote and showcase individual company announcements”. Over time the ESA will either shift completely into the media space and operate as a digital promotions platform that operates pretty much the same way as any other mainstream media/games marketing company or it will cease to exist. At best, E3 may end up becoming a smaller event that acts similar to PAX with a focus on smaller companies and projects desperate for any attention at all. While I have been predicting the end of E3 for some time now, I had originally given it a few more years, as can be seen in previous blog posts. But with the virus accelerating things, I think it’s done. E3 is de facto dead in the water from here on out.
Last week E3 2020 was officially cancelled due to concerns about COVID-19 aka coronavirus. If you have been reading my blog regularly for the past several years, then you know that I have been very negative about E3. I have called for a massive change to the structure of the event, I have maligned the ESA for their focus on using the event as a way to uplift media personalities, both professional and private, and I’ve said countless times that the event needs to be more focused on the public and providing them access. It is not inaccurate to say that I would happily have supported the show closing down for good. I even wrote a blog post in February pretty much saying that I believed E3 was on its way out within the next five years. But this is not how I wanted it.
While I did want to see E3 change or die, I wanted it to be a choice made in good faith. I did not want it to be at metaphorical gun point. I did not want the world to literally be collapsing under the weight of a pandemic that has led to the indefinite cancellation of the rest of the NBA season, several other events being cancelled or delayed indefinitely, and the delay of both movies and TV shows. Sure I’ve been very negative about E3 for years, but not so much that I wanted things to get to a point where people started dying in order to get it cancelled. It’s fairly depressing to have predicted and even called for E3 to be cancelled and to then have seen it cancelled in this way. It’s kind of like being able to see the future but not the causes of it and ultimately using that partial information to make things worse. Like being in an episode of That’s so Raven but much more depressing. Well maybe not much more depressing . . .
It is sad to see not just E3 but many gaming events cancelled because of coronavirus. Taipei Game Show, which I attend every year in person, was also cancelled, or “delayed” to be completely accurate. I am encouraged that some larger brands have already stated that they will still be able to present their E3 announcements on time via digital means. This is what I’ve wanted to be implemented for years. Again, I didn’t want it to be a forced decision in order to literally save lives, but yes the E3 announcement cycle needs to be replaced with digital presentations and should have been years ago. Every so often Nintendo has the right idea before everyone else.
I hope the industry as a whole takes this opportunity to completely revamp the way gaming announcements are distributed. We and they should not be limited to big news at a couple of key events in limited locations in specific languages at pre-determined times every year. Developers and publishers have the ability to create and distribute digital presentations at any time to everyone in the world concurrently in whatever language and style they want. The freedom of directly controlling and distributing information without having it filtered by media personalities and specific event dates should be taken advantage of by all developers and for whatever reason really hasn’t been to a wide degree. There’s no reason a developer that’s ready to announce a project in February should have to wait for June when a bunch of other projects by will also be announced by their competitors. It would be much more beneficial to that studio, and in my opinion effective, to be able to announce the information they want to when they’re ready directly to consumers via social media.
I love the Nintendo Direct and PlayStation State of Play presentations. I wish PlayStation had a bit more consistency about when they released them, but I believe the models work and more importantly work well. Every publisher can and should do something similar. And they shouldn’t try to release them all at the same time. Imagine a world where every month you get to watch a new presentation with announcements about different projects you may or may not have known about so you have enough time to properly analyze and consider each one, giving it a fair amount of consideration before rendering a verdict. Imagine being able to watch a company’s presentation without having to consider stupid questions like “Who won E3?” because each company presents their games as an independent entity at their own time trying to deliver products they’re passionate about rather than compete for media hype. Imagine a world where presenters can talk about the games they’re presenting without constantly being interrupted by entitled YouTubers trying to get free special editions of unreleased games and garner hits to their channels. This is the world of game announcements I want to live in.
I want to live in a world where the popular media outlets are the ones that create the best content by the strength of their writing and presentation. Not their access to information. I want to live in a world where all media, big or small, famous or just starting out, get information at the same time and can create their content the way they want to without having to worry about getting beaten out in the news cycle by someone who was given early access and handed an automatic win. We are in an age where consumers and developers no longer have to be held hostage by media entities and event organizers for exorbitant fees, favoritism, and inconvenient optics, both physical and digital. It’s now possible for any developer to present the content they want to present directly to the gamers with no middle man. I hope more of them take advantage of this opportunity moving forward.
Make no mistake, I am not happy about the spread of this virus. I am not happy that the world is getting turned upside down because of it. I am not happy to learn that most of the world’s governments are run by ill prepared career politicians that never really had the best interests of the public in mind or the ability/desire to protect them. None of these things make me happy. I am not happy that gaming events, among other things, are being canceled. All of these things make me sad. But let us not ignore that these cancellations are an opportunity to completely overhaul the way games are announced, hyped up, and even released. Hopefully it won’t be wasted.
Stay safe, stay inside as much as possible, and use this time to work on your backlogs.
I’ve never been a fan of the games as service model. It’s honestly crippled my experience with a lot of games. More specifically a lot of Ubisoft games since that’s become their staple model for games. The fact is that, like many if not most gamers, I’m severely backlogged. Like I have games I bought years ago that have never been opened. I’m not alone in this. It’s a common “problem” for gamers. Especially for those of us who buy in bulk during sales. Because of this, I rarely have the time or patience to go back to a game I’ve already “beaten”. I put the term beaten in quotes there because it’s hard to even declare a game beaten in the games as service model. That’s why “finished the main campaign” has become the more appropriate way to describe the experience of playing these games in the last several years.
I have played some great games from Ubisoft and missed out on much of the later released content, even though I basically always get the gold edition of their games. The Division is the best example of this for me. I think The Division was one of the best online cooperative experiences I’ve ever had. I had an active clan that played daily. We did everything. Beat every side mission, got every collectible, and dominated the dead zone. But eventually we all got bored and moved on to other games, as is normal for gamers. Then months after we had all moved on they started introducing new content. But we weren’t all in the same place at that point. Some of us did come back right away. Others never came back at all. I tried to go back in super late and it just didn’t work out. And I heard the newer content was really good. But I never really got to enjoy it. I was busy enjoying other games. This was my experience with The Division 2 as well, save for the fact that I never formally linked up with a clan in that one. It’s these sorts of experiences that have sort of ruined a number of great games for me because I always feel like I’m missing out on the content I paid for (Gold Editions). But I simply don’t have the time, or patience, to wait around in a game that is currently idle while waiting for new content. This is kind of why I’ve steered away from games as service titles as of late.
All that being said, I started playing Ghost Recon: Breakpoint day one. I thoroughly enjoyed the campaign and side missions. I had a terrible experience with the raid, which did release while I was still playing the campaign, so I do at least commend Ubisoft for that. But once I was done with the campaign, I was pretty much done. I completed my time with Breakpoint at the very end of December. Since then I’ve completed six other games. January was a rather productive month for me. At the very end of January, almost exactly one month after I finished and moved on from Breakpoint, Ubisoft held the Terminator event. The trailer was/is very good. The marketing email I received was also very compelling, as many Ubisoft emails I receive for games I’m already playing/have played are. So I decided to jump back in. Breakpoint was still fairly fresh in my mind and I happen to be a big Terminator fan. But I have to say that the main reason I was compelled to jump back in was that I had literally just finished a game and hadn’t yet started my next one coupled with the fact that this was a limited time event. Those two factors just happened to line up perfectly. If either wasn’t true then I can’t honestly say that I would have given this event a shot. But I’m very glad I did.
The Terminator event was really good. One of the best limited time events I’ve ever played in a shooter. I usually hate limited time events but this one handled things correctly and that’s what made it fun. The first thing I want to absolutely praise about the event is that it was short. I don’t mean short as in the amount of time it lasted. I mean short as in the amount of time it took to fully complete. There were 21 available rewards in this event plus two plot based guns. We were given nine days to finish the event (beat both the main missions and enough side missions to collect all 21 rewards) but it only took three days to actually accomplish this. And when I say three days, I don’t mean 72 hours. I mean three days of completing two daily missions a day plus the two main side quests. Overall this only took me about six to eight hours of actual play. And I consider that a good thing. This event wasn’t asking me for a new commitment. It was just asking me to visit an old friend for a little while. That made it enjoyable. I got to remember what I liked about the game without having to dive back in whole hog. The rewards were good. Mostly cosmetic, but stuff I actually enjoyed using. I bought those in-game store Terminator skins and used those Terminator shades. Are they useful? Not at all. Are they fun for old school movie nerds? Hell yeah!
It was fun playing story missions that only took a few hours but that tied in directly to the Terminator narrative. It was interesting fighting Terminators and having to use a special gun to destroy them. It was cool having a boss fight where you pretty much fight Arnold Schwarzenegger by another name and haircut. It was a nice weekend experience. That’s the kind of content a backlogged gamer is comfortable going back into an already beaten game to do. No long winded commitment that’s gonna make me have to learn an entirely new gameplay scheme. No months long timed daily missions scenario. Just a nice story driven weekend where I get to shoot killer robots instead of run of the mill soldiers.
The story worked really well because it was based on an already well established IP. They didn’t need to explain too much about what was going on because everybody already knows how Terminator works. So they could quickly throw you into the action and let you start fighting killer robots immediately. It also fit really well with the fact that Breakpoint is already about fighting killer drones. This event also worked well because of the large map size. While most will agree that the Breakpoint map is way too big, this actually does make implementing events like this way easier. They can easily drop random stuff into the map without it being too noticeable to those who aren’t interested in playing the events. They could drop Decipticons into the map and there’s still a good chance you might never see one.
My only real complaint about this event was the microtransactions content. There were a few skins I really wanted that required spending real money to get even when I have the gold edition of the game. I didn’t buy them but I have to say that this was the first instance where I actually took issue with microtransactions in Breakpoint. Up to this point I always felt the complaints were unnecessary because they didn’t actually affect the gameplay experience that much. And while sure they didn’t affect actual gameplay in this instance either, a Terminator event where cosmetic Terminator stuff is locked behind an additional paywall is pretty much the equivalent of affecting gameplay, in my opinion. But that also comes down more to the limited selection of Terminator cosmetics available without using microtransactions. If there were more skins than just Terminators available at no additional cost then I wouldn’t care so much that I couldn’t get things like a Kyle Reese skin.
While I absolutely loved this event and would most likely play more like it, I have to say that the game as a whole is still riddled with glitches. Even after 12 GB of patches and updates before starting the event, I still experienced a ton of problems. My entire experience with the final boss of the event was odd because the boss room didn’t even render for me. I was walking around only able to see enemies and completely blind to the room’s layout. It’s a wonder I got through the mission at all. Joining up with other players is still a lot of trouble. The fact that there was no event specific matchmaking options was quite annoying but I actually did end up doing some co-op play for the event missions a couple times anyway.
All in all, I consider the Terminator event to have been rather successful. It’s certainly the type of content I’d like to see more of and the way it was managed was very convenient and accessible. I have never gone back in and tried to do the raid again but if they keep doing events like this then I can definitely see myself returning to Breakpoint every so often for more short term events.
It’s no secret that I’ve been over E3 for quite a few years now. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while then you know I think it’s an outdated media event that does little in service of both the consumers and the companies presenting that couldn’t be done in much more efficient and cost effective ways. I also see the idea of praising media personalities with a weeklong party where they pretend to work while critiquing hard working devs based on a couple images often released years in advance is preposterous. So I’m fine with the event pretty much dying off and have said as much many times. It seems Sony is in agreement with me because now for the second year in a row they have announced that they will not be attending the show.
Let’s be very clear about something, right off the bat. Neither Sony or Nintendo needs E3. To say otherwise is either willful ignorance or a bold faced lie. E3 needs Sony and Nintendo. Yes there are other companies outside of the big 3 that present at E3. EA, Ubisoft, Devolver Digital, and others all present and that definitely matters. In fact, it’s safe to say that, just like last year, even though Sony wasn’t officially at E3 they still attended. The number of games that were presented at E3 2019 that will ultimately release on PlayStation hardware was more than enough to say that PlayStation users/fans were given plenty of reason to continue being happy as PS4 owners. So it’s more accurate to say that Sony not attending gets most of the benefits of E3 but none of the hassle and expenses. It’s kind of like how Kleenex is a brand but everyone just refers to all tissues as Kleenex at this point because the brand name has become synonymous with small squares of soft white paper for blowing your nose. PlayStation simply is part of console gaming DNA at this point so even if they don’t formally attend every game not specifically locked to XBOX consoles will almost always end up on a PlayStation console as well. Unless of course it’s a Nintendo exclusive. So from a business standpoint Sony doesn’t really need to be at E3.
I have been really happy with Sony’s continued support of the State of Play series. Similar to Nintendo with Directs, I think this is the future of gaming announcements. I still remember when Reggie Fils-Aimé said at E3 some years back that the purpose of moving over to the Nintendo Direct system as opposed to doing formal presentations at E3 was in order to reach a broader audience of Nintendo users around the world in a more direct and accessible way. I agreed with this statement so much and that’s even more so the case having now lived outside the United States for more than five years. The Nintendo Direct system is way better for the millions of gamers who aren’t fluent in English and/or don’t live in North America. Seeing Sony follow suit is a good thing. And if E3 dies in the process I’m perfectly fine with that.
Since the announcement that Sony would be skipping E3, I’ve seen a lot of people online malign Sony, calling them things like anti-gamer, selfish, and out of touch. I find comments like this to be laughable, ironic, and in true American style, extremely narcissistic and self-serving. I’m no Sony Pony and I’m happy to acknowledge a list of issues I have with how the brand has operated the last few years, but their choice to leave E3 isn’t an example of them being bad for consumers. One of the things that I really liked about Sony’s announcement that they were skipping E3 again is that they also stated that they would be participating in “hundreds of consumer events across the globe”. I totally believe this statement because I’ve been seeing it first hand for years. I go to Taipei Game Show every year and Sony always has the largest booth with tons of demos. I tried Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and Kingdom Hearts III months in advance because PlayStation demos were available at that show. Sony also hosts a special event in Taiwan that’s essentially an E3 show floor that only features PlayStation games. At Gamescom 2019, which I attended in person, PlayStation had one of the largest spaces at the show. Quite possibly the largest. What all these examples have in common is that they didn’t take place in the US and weren’t focused on by American media. And that’s the point. Sony is expanding their focus to gamers of all places, cultures, and languages. Americans don’t like that because they’re used to being the center of attention and nothing expresses that more in the gaming community than E3.
Removing the focus from E3 is a slap in the face to all Americans, and honestly that’s a good thing. And I’m speaking as an American born citizen. Gamers come from all over and they should all have equal access to news, demos, and attention from the publishers they patronize. Sony isn’t anti-gamer. They’re pro gamers worldwide. They may be a for profit company and thus are selfish by nature, but pulling out of E3 isn’t an example of that. Microsoft never shows up to Taipei Game Show. Would it be fair to call them selfish? Maybe. But it’s no more selfish than Sony not showing up to E3. Sony isn’t out of touch. The PS4 sold way more than the XB1. Why? Because Sony understands that the US isn’t the only market and has taken steps to expand their market reach outside of that one country. A country they aren’t originally from by the way.
Microsoft will of course be at E3. It’s an American based company with a predominantly pew pew focused audience made up of mostly Americans. They have almost no market penetration in Asia. How could they possibly even consider not going to E3? It’s pretty much the only AAA focused show they really matter in every year. And once again they’re gonna focus on things like Cyberpunk 2077, a cross platform game that you will be able to play on PS4/PS5. Free advertising for Sony yet again. Sony is playing chess and winning while Microsoft is losing at checkers. Microsoft better hope that third party publishers like Ubisoft don’t eventually bow out of E3 as well or it will basically be an XBOX circle jerk event they have to foot the entire bill for. And having done corporate budgeting for events like Computex myself, let me tell you that it is not cheap by any stretch of the imagination.
Personally I have no problem with E3 going the way of the dodo. But even if I was still a fan of E3 I’d still completely understand why Sony no longer attends. And make no mistake, they no longer attend. Every year now people will wait for the announcement as if there’s a chance they’re going back, but they won’t. That ship has sailed and there ain’t no turning back. Especially now that a lot of media have already turned on E3 after last year’s data leak fiasco. Enjoy it while you can kids because E3 will be dead in no more than 10 years. And that’s a conservative estimate. If this year’s show tanks hard enough, it’s probably dead in five. See you at Taipei Game Show.
WARNING: This is not a spoiler-free review. If anything this is more a discussion piece meant to be read post viewing rather than a traditional film review. Many spoilers ahead. You have been warned.
I saw Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope for the first time in 1997 when it was rereleased to theaters. Greedo shot first! I was eight years old. Without warning my mother took me and my younger sisters to see this movie. To this day I still don’t know why she took us to see it. She’s not a sci-fi fan. My sisters aren’t sci-fi fans. I believe she just thought I would like the movie and decided to force herself and her two young daughters to sit through it for my benefit. In any case, I absolutely loved the movie and became a Star Wars nerd. To this day A New Hope is still my favorite Star Wars movie of all time.
I consider myself a classic Star Wars fan. I believe in the canon. I believe in the established rules of the universe. I have taken the time to learn a lot about Star Wars outside the movies. I don’t hate the prequels but I’m happy to admit that they’re bad. I do hate Revenge of the Sith and I don’t know why people defend it. I was angered by The Force Awakens. I had massive problems with that film and to date I have never watched it a second time. But I do not hate the film. It has tons of problems, but honestly I believe most of them could be corrected with a few minor changes. Maybe one day that movie will get the George Lucas style patch treatment and become decent. I absolutely loathe The Last Jedi. I don’t even consider it a Star Wars film. It’s the most insulting, condescending movie ever made within an established IP built around a developed universe with fairly well defined rules. It left me so bitter that I considered not watching Episode IX, for just a second. My wife was so unhappy with The Last Jedi that she refused to pay money to see it in theater and had me go watch it alone so I could let her know how it is. She plans to watch it at home when it’s available for streaming.
Given how I felt about Episodes VII and VIII, I was very apprehensive going into The Rise of Skywalker. I expected it to be bad. Let me clarify, I didn’t think that highly of J.J. Abrams before he made The Force Awakens. I liked Super 8, but I wasn’t amazed by it. I enjoyed his Star Trek films as much as any diehard Star Wars fan can enjoy them. But to say that I turned on him because of Episode VII would be a false statement, because I wasn’t with him to begin with. Rian Johnson I had even less of an opinion on than Abrams. I liked The Brothers Bloom. I did not like Looper. I haven’t seen anything else by him. So my judgment of these latest Star Wars films has nothing to do with the directors/writers and everything to do with Star Wars and Star Wars alone. And to be clear I’m speaking as someone who has a B.A. in Cinema Studies and believes that the original Star Wars script (the original pitch script not the shooting script) is one of the worst screenplays ever written by an employed member of the Hollywood film industry. George Lucas is an abominable writer in his own right. So please don’t read my judgments as comments made with rose-tinted glasses.
As I have already said, this is NOT a spoiler free review, but I am taking the time to warn you one more time before we get into the real meat and potatoes of Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. For those who haven’t seen the film, go see the film. I highly recommend it. For the rest of you who will continue reading, let’s get down to business.
I’d like to start by presenting my rankings of the nine mainline Star Wars films as it currently stands.
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
Look at that list again. I ranked The Rise of Skywalker fourth best. That’s basically the highest praise I could possibly give any Star Wars movie not in the original trilogy. I need you to understand how impressed I am with J.J. Abrams after watching that movie. He made a movie I ranked third from the bottom, let some joker follow his movie with the worst of the worst, and then jumped to the highest possible rank that anyone could ever hope to achieve outside of George Lucas himself building a time machine, going back to 1977, and ruining the original trilogy. I was so impressed with Episode IX that I hope they never make another Star Wars film, because no future film, possibly from any IP, will ever hit me as positively on an emotional level as The Rise of Skywalker did. I’ve watched 11 different feature length live action Star Wars films. I’ve only cried in The Rise of Skywalker, and I cried multiple times. This ladies and gentlemen is a real Star Wars film. Now allow me to tell you why.
I’ve thought long and hard about this and I’ve come to two conclusions about Star Wars films. The first is that Star Wars films are not actually for children and haven’t been since Return of the Jedi. They are marketed as for children, as Disney wants it to be so, but this is inaccurate. At most they are child friendly, as in children can safely watch them without parents having to worry about the content shown, but they are not for children. Star Wars movies are for adults. The only real topic of debate is which adults are they actually for? The second, more important conclusion, is that good Star Wars films, at least in the mainline sagas, are not good films. In fact, I will go as far as saying that it’s fairly impossible to make a good film that’s also a good Star Wars film.
I have a Bachelor of Arts in Cinema Studies. I know a hell of a lot about “good film making”. I know why the movie that makes the most money every year almost never wins the Oscar for Best Picture. I know why established paid film critics grade a film one way and then the audience grades it completely opposite. It’s because the established conventions of traditional quality film making are very clearly defined over several decades of intentional implementation. The problem, if it can be called that, with the textbook definition of good film making is that it almost directly opposes good Star Wars film making. A New Hope was considered good film making at the time of release because it revolutionized special effects, established the modern sci-fi genre, and possibly began the modern day blockbuster film system. But it’s also full of hacky writing, plot holes, and it’s fairly predictable. I’m not saying these are bad things. I’ve already stated that A New Hope is my favorite Star Wars film. I’m just acknowledging the fact that even the very first Star Wars film isn’t an example of “good film making”. The fact that every single film in the mainline nine has the line “I have a bad felling about this” should tell you everything you need to know about the quality of Star Wars films in comparison to movies that most people agree are just objectively good movies. Because again, good Star Wars movies aren’t the same thing as good movies and vice versa.
What makes a good Star Wars film? This is the question that has plagued writers and directors since 1983. Possibly 1980, if you’re one of those Return of the Jedi nay-sayers. I believe that the question is hard to answer because the question isn’t framed correctly. The question shouldn’t be what makes a good Star Wars film. The question should actually be “What is the goal of a Star Wars film post 1983?” The answer to that question ultimately shapes how a person approaches making a Star Wars film in 2019. Disney would say the goal of a Star Wars film is to captivate and excite new audiences to the franchise with a focus on children and non-nerd females with the understanding that the established audience is already established and thus will go see the movies regardless of how they are. If this is your thought process going in then it makes sense that you would do things like ignore established canon, create Mary Sue characters, and shit on old favorites, and their fans, by doing things like killing off Han Solo in the opening film of the saga. In my opinion, it’s not that Episodes VII and VIII were made incorrectly. It’s that their objectives were wrong to begin with.
I vehemently disagree with Disney’s answer to the question “What is the goal of a Star Wars film post 1983?” As an old school Star Wars fan, I believe the goal of post 1983 Star Wars films should be to create films that continue to prop up the original trilogy as the greatest films in the series while rewarding fans for their long-term loyalty to the franchise. If that’s your mindset, you’ll make a much different film than you would going in with Disney’s goals. Now obviously the goals I’ve stated as correct Star Wars filmmaking aren’t nearly as lucrative in the long term. They aren’t going to expand the franchise’s market nearly as much. They aren’t going to appeal to outsiders at all. It’s simply not as profitable on paper. That’s not to say that Star Wars films can’t work to expand audiences while accomplishing these goals. It’s just to say that the expansion will be much more tempered and not nearly as fast. I think the way a good Star Wars film expands the franchise’s market is by including moments that get new audiences interested in checking out the older films. Episode IX absolutely takes the time to do that. The best example of this is the inclusion of and dialog surrounding the character and legend of Lando Calrissian. The movie goes out of its way to make you like Lando, show you that everyone knows and respects Lando because of events in the past, and establish that Lando’s character could still do even more. So when you leave the movie, if you don’t already know who Lando was prior to Episode IX, you will leave wanting to know more about him and that will encourage you to go back and watch the original trilogy. That’s how you expand the Star Wars audience while still making good Star Wars films. The reason The Rise of Skywalker works is because it understands the goals of making a good Star Wars film, while its two direct predecessors don’t.
Rogue One is an objectively good movie. It has good characters, solid character interactions and development, real stakes, and a surprising ending. Or at least it would be surprising if it didn’t have the name Star Wars attached to it. You could have easily released that film and never connected it to Star Wars and it would have been just as well received. Maybe even more so. But in my opinion it’s a terrible Star Wars film. It accomplishes literally nothing other than taking people’s money in exchange for telling them a story they already knew going in. There is nothing of consequence shown in Rogue One. No characters that actually matter are shown, save for cameos of Darth Vader and Moff Tarkin. No information that we didn’t already know that has any long term consequence to the Star Wars film universe is given. It’s basically Star Wars fan fiction. That’s why I didn’t like that the film was made. It’s a good film but it’s a bad Star Wars film. It doesn’t include any of the things that make Star Wars movies Star Wars movies. Again save for the cameo of Darth Vader at the end.
The problem with The Force Awakens is that J.J. Abrams refused to commit to a side. He tried to make both a good film and a good Star Wars film. As a real Star Wars fan, it feels like he was talking to a room full of people that we were invited to enter but he wasn’t actually talking to us. He simply included us in the room because it seemed like the right thing to do. That’s why it’s a bad Star Wars film, but it’s still absolutely a Star Wars film. The Last Jedi on the other hand isn’t a Star Wars film at all because Rian Johnson did commit to a side. It just happens to be the incorrect side for making good Star Wars films. Watching Episode VIII is so angering for old school Star Wars fans because it feels like we weren’t even invited into the room. He was absolutely not talking to us at all. He just wanted to make a good film that people with no background in Star Wars would enjoy and connect with. He even went as far as saying that he wasn’t trying to do Star Wars in an interview. He wanted to do something completely different. I believe he made the wrong choice and that’s why I ranked his film at the very bottom of the totem pole. I will however commend him for at least committing to a side. I would rather see a director make a hard decision and risk the entire franchise being destroyed then see one fence sit and pretend to make a good Star Wars film while really just trying to cater to his/her Disney overlords.
The Rise of Skywalker succeeds where The Force Awakens fails because J.J. Abrams finally committed to making a good Star Wars film. Watching it didn’t just feel like Star Wars fans were invited into the room. It felt like everyone else was asked to leave the room and he was only talking to us true fans, occasionally inviting Rian Johnson in for a stern lecture about following the rules of Star Wars. That’s what makes it a good Star Wars film. That’s not to say that the film is perfect. It’s absolutely not. I have a number of notes. For instance, the film goes out of its way to pander to Black viewers. So much so that it made me uncomfortable and I am an African American. A Black female character, not the first in the film with a speaking role, is introduced fairly a ways in. The only two characters she talks to for the entire rest of the movie are Finn and Lando, the only two Black male characters with speaking roles on the rebellion side. Her exchange with Finn came off like a weird callback to slavery and the exchange with Lando makes absolutely no sense. They defeat Emperor Palpatine and the first person she talks to is the old Black guy? And after talking to him for less than 60 seconds they decide to go off on a new adventure together? That’s not how Black people interact. Because that’s not how people interact.
There are plenty of other flaws I could list. Like why was Babu Frik in the ship with Zorii Bliss at the final battle? It would make no sense and has never been established that high level engineers just jump into battle ships to go along for the ride. Like he’s literally just standing on the dashboard looking cute. The movie is definitely flawed. But none of the flaws I mentioned make it a bad Star Wars film. They make it a politically questionable one. And, as with all Star Wars films, not a good film in general. But as far as Star Wars films go, the flaws don’t detract from the movie.
If I had to sum up why The Rise of Skywalker is a great Star Wars film in one sentence that sentence would be “Chewie finally got a medal.” Leia dies and leaves a medal from A New Hope to Chewbacca. This adds literally nothing to the story in this film. It doesn’t affect the plot in any way and if you completely removed that scene it would change nothing to the non-Star Wars fan viewer. But it’s one of the most important moments in the entire post 1983 franchise for real Star Wars fans. A New Hope was an amazing film that featured no non-White humans. Not one. So in a weird way Chewbacca filled this sort of every other man role for minority viewers and pretty much anyone who wasn’t a straight white guy with short hair. Now later we, as in Black people, got Lando. But pretty much anyone who couldn’t identify with a straight white guy or girl in A New Hope only got Chewie or a droid. And no one identifies with the droids. At the end of A New Hope you’ve watched a pretty much perfect movie and the best Star Wars movie that has ever and will ever be made and the heroes get medals but for some reason, that to this day I still don’t know the answer to, Chewbacca gets snubbed. He just doesn’t get a medal. No explanation. No answer. He stands on the stage and just doesn’t get a medal. For more than 40 years real Star Wars fans, of all races, have complained about the fact that Chewie didn’t get a medal in A New Hope. J.J. Abrams making the choice to feature that scene where Chewie gets a medal from Leia is exactly what post 1983 Star Wars is supposed to be. It’s supposed to be referential, nostalgic, and self-aware. And that’s exactly what The Rise of Skywalker is.
I cried multiple time while watching Episode IX. Not a single tear was shed due to some emotional sympathy for any of the characters. Not a single tear was because the narrative was so powerful and emotionally moving. Every tear I shed was a tear of nostalgia. The movie is 142 minutes of J.J. Abrams apologizing to real Star Wars fans for the last two films by acknowledging and rewarding them for 42 years of dedicated service as fans. They brought Lando back. They brought Han back. They brought Palpatine back. This was the first time since 1983 that all the original heroes appeared in the same movie. Luke, Leia, Han, Lando, R2D2, C-3P0, presumably Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda’s voices, and the Millennium Falcon all appeared in the same movie 36 years after the last time that happened. Of course I cried in that movie. It’s not particularly original, and it’s not supposed to be. The plot has twists but ultimately isn’t too unpredictable, and it’s not supposed to be. It’s not an example of generally good film making, and it’s not supposed to be. What it’s supposed to be is Star Wars, and that’s exactly what it was. Apology accepted J.J. Abrams. You’ve earned my forgiveness, because you did your research and listened.
I haven’t actually read any of the other reviews for Episode IX but I’ve seen the headlines and it’s very divided. Now I don’t really see how an OG Star Wars fan could not like this movie. Because it’s basically a movie made to clean up the messes made in the last two films. When viewed from that framework I don’t really know how it could have been any better other than nitpicky issues like the ones I brought up already. It’s literally made for us. And that starts from the beginning of the film. In fact, the movie goes out of its way multiple times to trick you into thinking that it’s going to be another The Force Awakens and then flips it on you to let you know that they actually listened this time. In the first 10 minutes of the film Poe light speed skips the Millennium Falcon. Now any traditional Star Wars fan knows that YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED TO DO THAT. Why? Because the late, great Han Solo said that you’re not allowed to rush light speed travel back in 1977 when Luke suggested it. So seeing it in the opening minutes of the film was really jarring. Until you realize why it happened. As soon as they land the Falcon, Rey who wasn’t with Poe and Finn in that light speed skipping scene, shows up and the first thing she says is “You can’t light speed skip the Millennium Falcon.” This is one of many important meta moments in the film. They’re intentional and they matter. These are moments where J.J. Abrams is acknowledging that the last two films got it wrong, that the rules actually do matter, and that when they’re not adhered to that needs to be addressed and apologized for in some way.
Another big example of the film acknowledging and apologizing to the true fans was the faux death of Chewbacca. You spend about 10 – 15 minutes thinking Chewbacca is dead and it’s an angry 10 – 15 minutes. It’s like a consider walking out of the theater in disgust 10 – 15 minutes. But then it’s revealed that actually he’s alive, he gets saved, and he gets a medal. I believe this was an apology for killing off Han in such a vainglorious way in The Force Awakens. And bringing his ghost back to redeem Ben Solo was exactly what I needed to see happen. So was Ben dying at the end of the movie. Him turning back to the light side was great. Him giving up his life and saving Rey was great. Rey kissing him was great in such a meta way. But he still needed to die. Because you don’t get to just kill Han Solo. Again J.J. Abrams, apology accepted. So my assumption is that the negative reviews aren’t from old school Star Wars fans, save for those who disliked VII and VIII so much that they just refuse to enjoy Episode IX regardless of how good it is, but from new agers who actually liked Episodes VII and VIII. I understand how those people could hate Episode IX because it basically fixes most of the things wrong in VII as best as it could and pretty much erases VIII. Like there are multiple moments where the movie openly shits on The Last Jedi, and I loved every second of it. Like the fact that Rey is Palpatine’s granddaughter was just the best reveal ever after that garbage orphan nonsense in The Last Jedi. Screw the broom boy. I don’t care about him.
As I said at the beginning, I hope they don’t make more mainline Star Wars films. I know they will but I don’t want them to. But since they will, I hope Disney and future directors takeaway the key lessons that this saga and this individual film have hopefully taught us all. Star Wars is not about gender. A woman can be the protagonist or a man can be the protagonist. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the rules surrounding the Force and how that person navigates them. To say Rey was disliked because she’s a woman is dishonest and inaccurate. Rey was disliked because she didn’t adhere to the established rules of the Force. She also had some attitude problems. I particularly liked that her main takeaway in The Rise of Skywalker was that she couldn’t do it alone. She spends the whole movie getting her ass metaphorically kicked until she finally accepts that she has to trust her friends and let them help her. Star Wars isn’t about sexuality, unless we’re talking about bloodlines being built up for the next generation of great Force users. In general, characters can be gay or straight. It doesn’t matter because that’s not, nor should it be, the focus of Star Wars. I was really happy with how tasteful their inclusion of a lesbian couple in Episode IX was. It’s not talked about. It’s not focused on. It’s simply shown in a celebration scene and then they move on, like normal people would in a story that has nothing to do with sexuality
Star Wars can and should include everybody, but it shouldn’t change to suit the whims and desires of anybody. Star Wars shouldn’t focus on or justify anybody specifically because of their race, gender, or sexuality. Star Wars is a universe of rules. As the long as the rules are followed, the rest of the stuff doesn’t really matter one way or another. And thankfully all the rules only concern how the Force works, who gets to use it and to what level, the limitations of technology, and respecting established canon. Other than that, have at it. Make a Black Jedi. Make a gay Sith Lord. Make a trans rebel commander. It doesn’t actually matter. Because if we’re talking about that then the movies have already gone too far by focusing on those things when that has nothing to do with Star Wars. Nobody in the movies ever calls Lando Black. He just is Black and that should be good enough for Black viewers. And it was for Black viewers in 1980.
Star Wars is about good vs evil and good always wins in the end. But good doesn’t win because it’s stronger. It wins because those on the side of good are stronger together. The climactic scene near the end when Lando shows up with an armada of random ships was beautiful because that’s exactly what Star Wars is supposed to be about. I especially liked the line delivered by the Final Order Commander’s first mate when asked where this navy from. He says “It’s not a navy sir, it’s just people.” That’s what Star Wars is actually about. It’s not that everyone is an epic hero that gets to lead an army or wield the Force. It’s about how while there are some people who stand above everyone else, everyone else has a role to play and even if we don’t know their names, they’re just as important because good only wins when everyone helps. That’s why we don’t need random people sprouting up around the galaxy being the next great Jedi. Because that’s not their role. But that in no way diminishes the fact that they are needed for good to triumph over evil. For most people, that’s your role in Star Wars. And if you have a problem with that, the problem is with you, not Star Wars.
In conclusion, Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker was a roaring success. It was everything I wanted from the final act of this saga and more than I expected from it. J.J Abrams has redeemed himself as a Star Wars director in my eyes and I’m glad that I’m able to say that. If you’ve read this far, I commend you. If you’ve read this far and haven’t seen the movie, I hope you now choose to go see it. Thank you for reading and may the force of others be with you. Sorry scratch that. That’s actually the garbage original phrase that was written in the first draft of the original Star Wars screenplay by George Lucas. What I meant to say was May the Force be with You.
Last week, Sony released the fourth episode of their State of Play series. Ironically it dropped on the same day as a Nintendo Indie World Showcase. I’m not sure if that was intentional or not but it was certainly nice to see both Sony and Nintendo take the time to address their user base with some announcements before the end of the year/decade. In my opinion, this wasn’t the best State of Play we’ve seen to date but it did what it needed to do.
In a slim 22 minute presentation, Sony showed 10 different games, some of which were fairly significant announcements. Funny enough they started by presenting Untitled Goose Game, which will now be coming to PS4. Funny enough this was the first trailer I’d seen of the game that genuinely made me want to play it. That, if nothing else, should be the point of these presentations. Showcasing games that people weren’t already sold on or aware of.
The most significant announcements/showings, in my opinion, were Resident Evil 3 Remake and Babylon’s Fall. Both look excellent based on what was shown in the presentation. Babylon’s Fall honestly came out of nowhere for me but it looks phenomenal. It appears that Platinum Games has taken the Bayonetta combat formula and applied it to swords rather than guns. If that’s not a winner then I don’t know what is.
The Kingdom Hearts III DLC, Re: Mind, finally has an official release date and pricing. What was shown during the presentation was quite impressive content wise. It appears that additional story content, several boss fights, and multiple new playable characters will be included in the DLC. But that price is absolutely atrocious. $40 for DLC better mean an entire new game’s worth of content a la The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine. I doubt it though because from what I’ve read outside of the presentation it’s mostly just new boss fights and cutscenes.
The Predator: Hunting Grounds trailer was bitter sweet for me. Gameplay wise, I was impressed. But graphics wise it looked disappointing to me. Hopefully that was just because the trailer was being live streamed so the quality was reduced/compressed, but if this ends up looking like a PS3 game, I will not be happy. I also felt that the trailer leaned way too heavily on showing the Predator dominating humans, which makes sense. But this game is similar to Evolve where people can play as humans and try to kill the Predator as well. While it makes sense to focus on Predator gameplay for marketing purposes, I feel like they’re setting this game up to be a bunch of players trying to be Predator and ultimately not having anyone wanting to play as humans. For an online multiplayer game, that could be bad news with such a lopsided interest in the player base. I hope in future trailers they do more to show that playing as humans is actually fun as well.
They showed another fancy trailer for Dreams, but at this point I just find that sort of marketing annoying. Every trailer is just them showing different creations that have supposedly been made in Dreams but almost nothing has been shown that makes me as a regular person with no game development experience feel like I could use the software to actually make good games. If it’s just Unity or Blender with PS4 controllers and is ultimately inaccessible to normal people from the creative side then the game will not have delivered what it’s selling. Super Mario Maker works because the creative aspect is accessible to everyone. Not just the ability to play other people’s creations.
They took the time to show two really outside the box VR games, Superliminal and Paper Beast, both of which look really trippy. If I’m honest Paper Beast didn’t necessarily seem like a game that needs to be in VR. The experience may be enhanced in VR but it looked like your standard exploration puzzle game with a focus on art rather than gameplay. Superliminal on the other hand seemed much more about the use of VR for gameplay. The focus appears to be about visual perspective, which obviously lends itself to VR fairly well. Neither game wowed me enough to want to go buy a PSVR headset though.
Yet another online battle royale game has been announced, named Spellbreak. It appears to be Fortnite with magic instead of guns. Honestly it looked fairly good considering it’s a genre that I would never personally get involved in. But who knows if it will be able to penetrate an already saturated market and become the next e-sports phenomenon? I’d be hard pressed to believe that a game not featuring guns in that genre could end up having that significant of an impact. I could be wrong though because if that had been the original concept rather than PUBG I might have actually tried it.
Last but not least, Sucker Punch continues to tease me with glimpses of Ghost of Tsushima. They played the beginning of a trailer and announced that the rest of it would be shown at The Game Awards, which also occurred last week. I won’t be covering the show on here though so don’t expect a post about it.
I do consider this a mostly successful State of Play. Once again Sony chose to focus on mostly projects that aren’t huge guaranteed successes while also including a few things of note to make sure that the presentation was relevant for both indie focused and main stream gamers. Of the 10 games shown, I can honestly see myself playing at least four of them with a potential fifth one to consider. That’s a fairly good success rate. Especially when compared to the Nintendo presentation that took place on the same day. Of the 16 games, admittedly all indies, shown in the Nintendo presentation, I would genuinely consider picking up maybe three of them with one of those three being a sequel to a franchise I’ve played before. Again it’s apples and oranges when one presentation is all indie titles but it still says a lot about the quality of this State of Play by getting me interested in nearly half the games shown. That being said, I will admit that I was already aware of and interested in buying Ghost of Tsushima and the Kingdom hearts III DLC long before this presentation aired.
There will be a post next week and the week after, but as people are busy with the holidays, many may not have time to check out the blog in the upcoming weeks so I’ll end this by saying Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all my readers. Thanks for another great year of gaming discussion.
Every year The Game Awards disappoints us all by choosing a list of five or six games to contend for Game of the Year that usually makes little to no sense. They always nominate the arguably but not necessarily correct choice, a correct second choice when compared to the first, two or three games that are justifiable but not really contenders, and inevitably one game that just absolutely should not be there, ultimately robbing a more deserving game. For this post, I only want to talk about the Game of the Year category from The Game Awards. I won’t discuss any of the other categories.
This year the nominees for Game of the Year, listed in the order as shown on The Game Awards nomination page are:
Resident Evil 2 Remake
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
Smash Bros. Ultimate
The Outer Worlds
As soon as the nominees were announced, the debates and vitriol started to hit social media, as is tradition. This happens to be one of those really divisive years that always happens when a Kojima game is involved. I ended up tweeting a long thread about my views on how GOTY should be picked but then I realized that writing a blog post on the topic would be more appropriate because it would let me expand and describe my thoughts on the subject better than a string of 280 character blurbs. If you’d like to see the original twitter thread you can find it unrolled for easy viewing here.
I want to clarify that the purpose of this post is not to try to tell people who to vote for specifically but rather to create an objective system for how people should approach voting for GOTY in general. This isn’t meant to be applied to any particular year of nominees but rather should act as a general guide that could be applied to any list of nominees in any year.
I think the first and most important part of choosing a GOTY is first defining what the term “Game of the Year” actually means, or more specifically should mean. As with real politics, a lot of people think GOTY means the nominee they enjoyed the most. This is incorrect thinking, in my opinion. GOTY, as with actual politicians, isn’t meant to best quantify your tastes in the options available. It’s meant to best exemplify the traits/values that define the award. In other words, you’re not supposed to vote for the thing you like but rather the thing that best exemplifies the topic you’re voting on. If you’re asked to vote which number is higher and the candidates are 5, 9, and 42, you’re supposed to vote for 42. It doesn’t matter if you like 5 better than 42. 42 is the highest number and thus the correct nominee to vote for. I believe GOTY can and should be approached with the same level of objectivity. The subjective portion is the debate about which of the nominees best meets the criteria of GOTY, but the criteria itself should be objective and the only basis of voting applied by each individual voter. That is to say, we might not agree on which game should be chosen as GOTY, but we should all agree on what GOTY is supposed to mean and be voting for whatever nominee we ultimately chose for the exact same reasons.
So let’s define what GOTY actually means, or more accurately is supposed to mean. Listed on The Game Awards page as the description for the Game of the Year category is the following: Recognizing a game that delivers the absolute best experience across all creative and technical fields. That’s what GOTY is. It doesn’t say “Game I liked the Most” or “Game that got the Best User Score on Metacritic”. It’s supposed to be the game that best exemplifies the craft of overall game design and implementation within the highly competitive and comparative medium of video games. Let’s unpack that.
I believe that choosing the GOTY, based on the described category by The Game Awards, requires looking at several factors while considering a number of key points in order to keep things fair and balanced between the nominees. I’ll go over each one, in no particular order, separately before making a final conclusion on what I believe the GOTY pick for this year should be.
A Game is made up of 5 Equally Weighted Factors
There is always debate about what matters most in a game. Is it the story, the gameplay, the graphics, or something else? Are certain factors more important than others? Can developers get a pass for cheaping out in specific areas of development? In my opinion the answer is always no. At base value a game consists of five areas of creativity that define its presentation to the player: Gameplay, Writing, Graphics, Audio, Length. None of these factors are more important than the others. They are all equally important in the creation of a video game and should all be weighted equally when comparing games. This is similar to how I have always approached reviews save for a larger focus on replay value and cost. The category isn’t Shooter of the Year. It’s GOTY. So the gameplay shouldn’t outweigh the story, because the story is no less important than the gameplay when “recognizing a game that delivers the absolute best experience across all creative and technical fields”.
A GOTY has to do all five things in tandem better than all the other nominees. The art of game development is understanding that there are limits to what can be done in each field with the time and resources available during development and deciding what can be sacrificed while maintaining an overall standard of quality higher than all the other games released that year, and ideally in previous years as well.
I’d like to take some time to discuss length specifically because it’s always a topic of debate. The appropriate length of a game is a very subjective topic that is often muddied by concepts like replay value. In my opinion, length also needs to be directly tied to actual value as defined by cost. I also think that a game being too long is just as problematic as a game being too short, but when factoring in value the longer game is always better than the shorter one. Replay value needs to be factored based on the level of direct repetition and the actual value of replay as opposed to subjective enjoyment.
A game that’s only 20 hours long that you enjoyed enough to play twice isn’t equitable to a game that’s 40 hours in one playthrough. Because it’s not accurate to say that everyone will want to replay the game. Replay value can only be counted towards length if there’s a legitimate reward of value for taking the time to replay it. This is hard for many games to do well; especially in the current landscape where nearly 100% of gamers are backlogged. There is no objective value in replaying Cuphead on the harder difficulty after completing it on the standard difficulty. If you completed it without using the easy mode then you experienced everything it has to offer content wise. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t replay the game on the harder difficulty if that’s what you want to do. But the game doesn’t magically double in length compared to the length of other games because you want to take the time to play it again. There’s no additional content, no meaningful rewards, and no alternate/additional story content gained from replaying the game on a harder than normal difficulty. It’s simply for love of the game, which can’t legitimately be applied because not everyone will love the game enough to want to play it again just for the fun of it.
Multiplayer replay value is not authentic replay value. The length should only be counted based on the time it takes you to experience it all once. An hour of maps that you play 50 times is not objectively 50 hours of added gameplay. It’s one hour of gameplay you replayed 50 times. Length should only be defined by the amount of time it takes at face value to experience all the content the game has to offer one time.
GOTY doesn’t have to be replayable. It simply needs to provide the correct amount of gameplay for the best overall experience. A well-crafted one and done is no more or less valid than a game that asks you to play it multiple times. Especially if those replays offer little in the way of actual value outside of subjective enjoyment.
Each of the five topics should be weighted equally but compared separately between games. A game with shitty gameplay and great story is not better than a game with great gameplay and shitty story. Both are equally bad and should lose out to a game with both above average gameplay and story. But again it’s best of five categories. A game that does length, story, and audio better than a game that does gameplay and graphics better should win between the two. Because it’s a 3 factors to 2 factors comparison at that point. And three is higher than two. Now ideally this isn’t what ends up happening because it would be odd if in a given year the winner had garbage gameplay and graphics but the other nominees all had garbage audio, were too short, and were terribly written.
The Nominees Are the Nominees
The Game Awards gets the nominees as a whole wrong pretty much every year. There’s always at least one that just shouldn’t be there and there’s always at least one that absolutely got robbed. Last year it was Celeste that shouldn’t have been nominated. This year it’s Control. And make no mistake, no matter how much you personally may have liked Control, it wasn’t a more qualified contender for GOTY than Devil May Cry V, Astral Chain, and Fire Emblem: Three Houses. I have my thoughts about why Control was nominated but it doesn’t really matter. The nominees are the nominees and we can’t change that. Rather than fight about would should have been nominated, we should just accept the nominees and pick the appropriate choice from that pre-determined list of games and make sure not to allow the off pick to win or it could have devastating long term ramifications for the industry. It would have been absolutely horrendous if God of War and Red Dead Redemption 2 had lost to Celeste last year. And I’m speaking as someone who enjoys playing Celeste.
Ports, Remasters, Remakes, and Reimaginings
There is always debate about the validity and fairness of reused, rehashed, and remade games being contenders for GOTY. It’s a valid question and it’s hard to create a completely objective set of rules, but there are definitely obvious points that shouldn’t be considered debatable.
The issue comes down to comparative fairness, effort/work put in, and not allowing double counting. A game gets only one chance to win GOTY. Many games have come over the years that in other years would have definitely won GOTY. But that’s not how it works. A game has to be the best in the year it was released because all the games previously made were made with the knowledge of how the market responded to those past games. Letting a game get considered twice gives it an unfair advantage and more chances to win than every other game. It’s differentiating original games and their rereleased counter parts that’s tricky, but I say when in doubt always error on the side of caution.
The question of fairness comes down to work put in compared to other studios in order to achieve comparable results, in each category. When given two games with similar levels of quality and no clearly superior choice, the one that did more work should be considered the winner.
Reimaginings don’t really need to be debated. If it’s a true reimagining where everything is redone, rewritten, and changed to the point of it not even being the same original game, then of course it should be considered as a potential GOTY candidate. Ratchet & Clank (2016) is an excellent example of a true reimagining that was absolutely valid to consider for GOTY. Note that “considered” does not mean “had an actual chance of winning” in this context.
Ports and remasters by their very nature aren’t new games. Updating the graphics and adding a little DLC doesn’t compare to creating an entirely new game. The amount of time put into concept development, art style, visual assets, story development, voice acting, and so on just doesn’t compare to making a new game of similar quality. A port already got its chance at GOTY in its original form and shouldn’t be considered again. Remasters are glorified ports. A bit more work may have been put into improving them, but the bulk of the foundational work still doesn’t compare to all the new games released in a given year. Looking at examples like The Last of Us and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe from years past, it should be fairly obvious that like ports, remasters have no business being reconsidered as GOTY contenders.
Remakes are where things get tricky to define. There is no objective criteria for defining a remake. Some are little more than glorified remasters while others are completely new games. Some are able to reuse tons of assets while others have to start almost completely from scratch save for writing. So they need to be judged on a case by case basis. The one thing I think should be 100% undebatable is that in the event of a tie the remake should always lose out to an original release in the same year. Again, we need to take into account all five categories. The problem is that a true remake, such as Link’s Awakening, involves almost no creative development. The writing, assets, music, and length are all predefined. Yes a lot of work needs to be done to recreate those assets, but the creative aspects of the project simply don’t compare to that of making a new game from scratch. But again, it’s all comparative. If a remake looks genuinely better than all the original nominees in a given year then you give it the point for graphics. But if other games look similar or as good, then you award that point to one of the original titles. Directly ported things like writing shouldn’t be considered as valid for comparison. The points should never go to the reused content.
This year’s nominees include Resident Evil 2 Remake. At face value many people do believe it was GOTY for 2019. I have to disagree. From what I’ve heard, the only thing about it that’s truly original is the gameplay. It’s been essentially redesigned. Everything else is pretty much a spirited recreation of the original game. That’s not to argue that Resident Evil 2 Remake isn’t a good game. Not including it is more an issue of fairness than an issue of quality.
I’m sure this issue will come up again with FFVII Remake next year. The difference is that Square Enix has stated that it will be intentionally different from the original. Having already tried the gameplay myself, I can say that it certainly looks and feels like a completely different game. But until we see how much of the game has changed from both a narrative and length standpoint it’s impossible to comment on whether or not it’s actually fair to consider it.
Game of the Year Doesn’t Mean Studio of the Year
A major issue that comes up a lot when judging games is the consideration of who made the game. This shouldn’t actually matter when picking a GOTY. The studio, director, actors, and so on are irrelevant. No matter how much you love Kojima, that doesn’t make Death Stranding a better game than it is. No matter how much you hate Ubisoft, that doesn’t make Ghost Recon: Breakpoint a worse game than it is. Games should be judged in a vacuum that only takes into account the comparative quality of each nominee. External factors, with the exception of how much content is actually original in the case of remake and remasters, should never be considered when choosing GOTY.
GOTY implies it’s the game of the year for everyone, or more accurately a large percentage of gamers. That means that people had to actually play it, which implies they had to actually be interested in it. This is the sole reason that Control wasn’t appropriate to nominate. If a few people absolutely love a game, that’s great. But it’s not GOTY material. Because games are experiences made for an established gaming market. Making games that don’t appeal to that market may be innovative, but that’s not the point of GOTY. A contender needs to actually appeal to the community in order to be considered worthy of the title. Regardless of how much some people like a game, if few people were even interested enough to try the game then it’s not GOTY material. That doesn’t mean that the bestselling game in a given year should win that year. But there does need to be a minimum number of units sold to be able to imply that it appealed to a large percentage of gamers. Because GOTY is for everyone. Not just a small subset of people within a specific sub-group within the gaming community. Every gamer should be able to look at the GOTY and acknowledge it as a legitimate choice even if it wasn’t their favorite game in that year. That’s what was so good about the 2018 nominees. While there were two fairly clear frontrunners, five of the six nominees could have been chosen and no one would have legitimately been able to say the choice was biased. All six of the nominees were highly acclaimed and sold well. “Everyone” loved them all. Celeste wasn’t up to the standard of the AAA titles which is why it shouldn’t have been nominated, but other than that any of the games in the running appealed to gamers as a whole as opposed to a niche audience. You can’t say that about necessarily any of the nominees this year, mostly because the wrong games were nominated, but some games get closer than others. The ones that get closest are the ones that should actually be considered for GOTY.
The problem with the entire concept of GOTY is that it takes a year to decide on the nominees. That means that a game has to stay in people’s heads for a year. Honestly that’s a ridiculous ask. Because as I’ve said, one and done games are perfectly legitimate GOTY contenders. Take a game like Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order. It just released in November 2019. It will be included in the running for GOTY 2020 because it missed the 2019 cutoff. The reviews are great. The public loves it as well. It might be the best EA game we’ve gotten since Mass Effect 3 and the best Star Wars game since The Force Unleashed II. But it’s ridiculous to think that we’ll still be talking about it in November 2020. Why? Because we’re about to go through a year containing Cyberpunk 2077, Nioh 2, The Last of Us Part 2, Marvel’s Avengers, Final Fantasy VII Remake, DOOM Eternal, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, and Yakuza: Like a Dragon just to name a few of the games coming in 2020. Even if Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order is the objectively best game to release in the next year, we absolutely won’t still be talking about it after reaching the end of this gauntlet of big budget games and power house IPs. That’s not a fault of the game. It’s just the reality of an ADD ridden consumer base coupled with a constantly moving stream of new noteworthy games. It’s ridiculous to think we should still be talking about games we’ve already finished and moved on from after playing five or ten other impressive games released after it.
Currently a lot of people are saying Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice isn’t being talked about anymore so it shouldn’t be nominated. That’s an irrelevant point. Since that game released in March, we’ve gotten Yoshi’s Crafted World, Mortal Kombat 11, Days Gone, Judgement, Super Mario Maker 2, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Astral Chain, Monster Hunter World: Iceborne, Daemon X Machina, Link’s Awakening Remake, The Surge 2, Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, Luigi’s Mansion 3, Death Stranding, and Control. Of course we’re not still talking about Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Why would we be? And this was considered a mediocre year by the way. It’s this thinking that I believe ultimately led to Devil May Cry V getting robbed of a nomination. It’s simply too old by this point, because it came out before Sekiro did.
It doesn’t matter if we’re still talking about a game when the awards season comes up. What matters is how the game compares in the five expressed categories compared to the other games released that same year coupled with whether or not it reached the unwritten popularity by sales threshold. Remember that Sekiro was the third highest selling Japanese game ever to release on Steam. It sold over 2 million copies worldwide within 10 days of release. It absolutely deserves to be considered as a legitimate contender for GOTY.
Innovation Doesn’t Mean GOTY
Innovation is a good thing in the gaming industry. But only if the innovation pans out as a positive thing. Games are still products made for consumers in an established market. If a product doesn’t appeal to that market, then it shouldn’t matter how innovative it is. Look at the Wii U. It was extremely innovative. People didn’t like it. We didn’t award it console of the year simply because it dared to be different. Nintendo went back to the drawing board and tried again. Now we have the Switch, which is super successful. Awarding GOTY strictly because of innovation is incorrect thinking. A game still has to appeal to the market and hit all the other points I’ve expressed in order to legitimately be considered for GOTY. Innovation is good, but a lack of innovation isn’t automatically problematic. If the people want the same old thing then a studio can and quite possibly should choose to give that to them. Because remember what GOTY means: a game that delivers the absolute best experience across all creative and technical fields. The fields never change. How studios approach them does but the same five categories are set in stone and will be for the foreseeable future. This is the question that needs to be asked about Death Stranding. A lot of people have argued that it’s the most innovative game in years so it should win. I disagree with that thinking. It may very well be the most innovative game we’ve seen in years. But does it beat out the other nominees for gameplay, writing, length, audio, and graphics? Maybe it does. If you think it actually does then that’s the game you should vote for. If you think it leads in innovation but not in a majority of the actual categories, then it’s objectively the incorrect game you should be voting for this year.
In conclusion, your GOTY vote shouldn’t be for the game you personally liked the most. It should go to the game that you believe best meets the criteria set by The Game Awards which is defined as “recognizing a game that delivers the absolute best experience across all creative and technical fields”. All the nominees should be compared based on all the major factors that make up a gaming experience: gameplay, graphics, audio, writing, and length (based on value as defined by price).
Looking at the nominees, I have to say that the wrong list of six games was nominated for this year. But as I said, the nominees are the nominees and that can’t be changed. So we must compare these six games and make a GOTY selection based on them. The fact is that Control didn’t sell well and we don’t really have any sales figures available for The Outer Worlds other than the phrase “exceeded expectations”, whatever that means. Honestly both of those games weren’t nearly as popular as they needed to be to consider as legitimate GOTY contenders. I don’t think they even need to be compared to the rest of the group. Death Stranding I actually feel like is getting hyped due to Kojima and how close to the nominations announcement it released, so I will absolutely acknowledge it as a contender but I don’t believe something that niche would have necessarily been nominated over many of the games that got snubbed if it had released earlier in the year. Resident Evil 2 remake was definitely popular, definitely well made, and definitely a safe choice to nominate. But because of the fact that it’s a remake, I believe there are games that didn’t get nominated that are at least as if not more worthy for a nomination than it was. So I won’t consider it a legitimate pick for this year either. Really it comes down to Death Stranding, Smash Bros. Ultimate, and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice as the only objectively acceptable picks for GOTY based on this list of nominees.
It’s interesting that two of these three nominees are console exclusives (at the time of nomination) and all three are Japanese developed games. Smash Bros. Ultimate is the most massively appealing with more than 12 million units sold the month of release as a console exclusive. But sales figures aren’t the only thing that matters. In fact, it’s not even close to the most important thing. So let’s go down the list of categories one by one.
Game of the Year 2019 Assessment
For gameplay I’d say Death Stranding is the most innovative, but it’s also the least appealing to a general audience of gamers. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice has the most controversial gameplay, having spawned an online controversy about accessibility in games. Smash Bros. Ultimate has the most accessible gameplay, but I’d also say it was the least innovative because this is several sequels into the franchise. But a lack of innovation isn’t a bad thing if it appeals to the consumer base. And the amount of additional fighters has drastically impacted the gameplay, even if only marginally to casual players. So I actually think that an argument could be made that Smash Bros. Ultimate wins out for gameplay not because the gameplay is necessarily superior but because of the three it’s the most widely liked/tolerated gameplay with little to no real controversy surrounding it.
It’s easy to say that Smash Bros. Ultimate has the least impressive graphics because of the art style but it also has the largest number of characters, settings, and objects of the three games in question. Counting it out really comes down to bias for art style more than objective comparison. That being said, many of the assets used in Smash Bros. Ultimate have been recycled from past games. Death Stranding has a much more expansive map than Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice but I wouldn’t argue that it’s necessarily a better looking game. Sekiro also has a lot more movement and interacting elements than Death Stranding. Between the three, I would give the win to Sekiro but I believe an argument can be made to award it to Death Stranding as well. Remember that the grading is subjective by nature. It’s the approach to grading that needs to remain objective.
Comparing these three games for audio is tough. For music, it goes to Smash Bros. Ultimate. It has the largest library of music that pretty much any game has ever had. The sound effects for this fast paced fighting game are also fairly accurate and of great quality, especially for the hardware the game runs on. I’d probably award the audio category to Death Stranding over Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice but having not completed either game yet, I’m willing to acknowledge that my view on that could be inaccurate. When considering that most of the audio library for Smash Bros. Ultimate isn’t original content, I have to award the audio category to Death Stranding.
How do you compare length between a game with countless repetitive side missions, a die countless times Soulsborne title, and a fighting game? Honestly it’s hard to really define the length of any of these games and it’s even harder to decide if at least two of the games are the correct length for what they are. According to How Long to Beat, which isn’t necessarily a perfectly accurate rating system for game length, Sekiro is 27.5 hours for the main story while Death Stranding is 36. In general, longer is better if we assume neither game is longer than it needs to be. But there is an assumption that dying countless times to the same boss counts as fun. Equally so, there’s an assumption that delivering packages over and over is fun. The difference is that delivering packages is the point of the game, while dying is more of a repercussion of not playing the game well. The speedrun times for Sekiro come in at under 30 minutes while the speedrun times for Death Stranding come in at more than five hours while skipping cutscenes. So between the two I think Death Stranding beats out Sekiro for length. But we need to talk about Smash Bros. Ultimate. This is a fighting game, but it’s probably the most comprehensive fighting game ever made. There are 69 default characters plus six more DLC characters. If you play just 10 minutes per a default character, you’re already at 11.5 hours. The World of Light story mode is easily a three or more hour experience on its own. The spirit board mode is constantly updating. Plus there are a number of other modes like Classic Mode and the later added Homerun Contest all at no additional cost. Even if you never replay a single match and don’t play any online or PVP matches, you’re still getting way more bang for your buck from Smash Bros. Ultimate than you are in Death Stranding without having to arbitrarily add length to the games. So objectively speaking I have to award length to Smash Bros. Ultimate.
At a glance most people will award the writing category to Death Stranding simply because it’s Kojima. I am not one of those people. I have always held that Kojima is a mediocre writer with interesting ideas. The fact that he uses names like Die Hardman, Deadman, and Mama for his characters is proof that he’s kind of an overrated hack when it comes to writing. That being said, his general narrative ideas are fairly good. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice isn’t necessarily amazing writing, but it is some of the best writing to come out of FromSoftware in this genre for the simple fact that the game actually has a running narrative with a defined main protagonist as opposed to the usual character creation lore fest with no actually story they use in Dark Souls and Bloodborne. Smash Bros. Ultimate needs to be commended for having actually created a story mode that had an actual story. Was it high writing? No. But it was a huge leap forward for the franchise as far as narrative content is concerned. Really all three games can be awarded this category for different reasons depending on how much stock you put into innovation, outside the usual box development practices, and your own narrative preferences. So I actually won’t award this category to any one game and will leave it as a three way tie.
Based on my assessments, here are the final results.
Gameplay – Smash Bros. Ultimate
Graphics – Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
Audio – Death Stranding
Length – Smash Bros. Ultimate
Writing – Three Way Tie
Based on these results here are the final scores.
Smash Bros. Ultimate – 3 Points
Death Stranding – 2 Points
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice – 2 Points
Ultimately I voted for Smash Bros. Ultimate as GOTY. At first glance I had chosen Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and had even tweeted as such when debating it with someone who had read my original thread. But after taking the time to really examine the games, I came to the conclusion that the objectively correct choice for me was Smash Bros. Ultimate, as I have shown here.
Now again, I’m not saying you should vote for Smash Bros. Ultimate. I’m saying that your vote should be justified with an objective criteria that adequately meets the definition of the GOTY category as defined by The Game Awards. Your vote should not simply be the game you liked the most or that was the most popular on social media. Even the game that had the highest Metacritic score isn’t automatically the correct choice. Only by comparing the games with an objective set of criteria that is fairly applied to all of them with as little bias as possible can we hope to accurately choose the GOTY. Voting for this year’s GOTY is still open until December 11th at 6PM so so make sure you vote and do your best to vote objectively.