The Bulletin

Major League Gaming broadcast desk

This Isn’t SportsCenter

Sony throws the PlayStation 3 a bone, the Xbox gets a new boss, and professional video game players take one step closer to becoming superstar athletes. Plus: Obsidian dreams of The Ultimate Video Game.

By Sam Barsanti • July 15, 2013

The Bulletin is a roundup of a few game-related news stories from the previous week.

Major League Gaming to create ESPN-style video content, because everyone loves talking heads
Major League Gaming logo

ESPN has long been the go-to TV channel for Americans who would rather watch a sporting match than America’s Next Top Dancing Chef Celebrity. Now, I don’t know much about sports, but I do know that it’s 2013 now, and in order to hook the current generation of nerdy young men, you have to go a little further than “all sports, all the time.” One way to do this is by embracing a hot new trend called “video games.” That’s why Major League Gaming, as reported by GamesBeat, has decided to produce its own shows. They will feature all of the bone-breaking highlights and insightful commentary you’ve come to expect from SportsCenter, but instead of talking about Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, or Third Sports Guy, they’ll talk about whoever got the most epic headshot in that day’s professional Call Of Duty match. Then, since the guy’s handle will be something stupid like xXpwnzillaXx, the hosts will look at each other and think the same thing: “I have to fire my agent.”

Also, lest you think this will tarnish the purity of professional video gaming, the GamesBeat report points out that Major League Gaming is not-so-subtly positioning this as an excellent opportunity for advertisers to get on the money train, since the average viewer of an MLG event watches about three hours of ad-ready content. I can’t wait until we see someone sit down to play StarCraft in one of those ridiculous NASCAR jackets covered in sponsorship patches.

Insomniac Games announces new Ratchet And Clank for PlayStation 3

Better pump the brakes, Sony fans. You’re probably clearing space on your entertainment center and rolling up controller cords so you can stick that musty old PlayStation 3 back in your closet and make room for a hot new PlayStation 4. But wait! One of the PlayStation’s most beloved duos is coming back to give the PS3 a nice sendoff…after the PS4 comes out. As announced on the official PlayStation blog, Ratchet And Clank: Into The Nexus will be coming “this holiday” to the soon-to-be-outdated PlayStation 3, and it will be a traditional single-player platformer. This seems like a specific reaction against the multiplayer-focused Ratchet And Clank: All 4 One and the tower defense-like Ratchet And Clank: Full Frontal Assault.

Now, as you may recall, neither the Xbox One or PlayStation 4 are backward compatible, so you can’t play any 360 or PS3 games on them (including downloadable ones like Ratchet And Clank: Into The Nexus). With the PlayStation 4 set for release some time in November and Into The Nexus coming some time “this holiday,” it seems especially weird that Sony would want to release a new entry in a popular series for its old console right around the same time that it expects people to buy its new console, but I think it’s allowed one or two weird decisions after the last few months that Microsoft has had. Hey, speaking of…

Meet the new Xbox boss, probably the same as the old Xbox boss
Julie Larson-Green

Julie Larson-Green

Last week, I mentioned that Julie Larson-Green, the head of Microsoft’s Windows division, was the most likely candidate to replace the dearly departed Don Mattrick. (He’s not dead, he just quit.) Of course, since we’re dealing with Microsoft, it wasn’t nearly that straightforward. Rather than simply replace Mattrick, Microsoft has overhauled its entire corporate structure—in fact, this restructuring has been cited as one reason that Mattrick bid the company goodbye. The specific details of the overhaul are complex and mostly unrelated to the Xbox (also: boring), but the important parts are that Larson-Green has been put in charge of the new Devices And Studios Engineering Group, which covers “all games, music, video, and other entertainment,” and that there is also a new and separate Operating Systems Engineering Group, which covers all of Microsoft’s various operating systems, including that of the upcoming Xbox One. In other words, one group is in charge of the actual console and another group is in charge of its dashboard. Hopefully this doesn’t cause any disconnect between the two, since I don’t think the Xbone can handle any more complications.

We probably won’t see the ramifications of this for a while, so let’s take this moment to see how the internet is reacting to it. For that, we look to a respected outlet for reasonable coverage of the video game community, The Atlantic Wire, which recently posted an article titled “Gamers Can’t Handle The New Female Head At Xbox.” The article casts people who play video games in about as positive a light as you can expect from a headline like that. Pulling the most openly sexist comments from sites like GameSpot and N4G, the article suggests that players, as a bloc, are terrified of a future in which all video games are “dedicated to baking and knitting.” Now, I don’t want to dismiss any of the horrible stuff these commenters are saying, but I would like to point out that not all people who play games are like that, and that this is not “standard gamer talk,” as the article claims. On the other hand, I would like to sarcastically thank these comment-thread idiots for giving people evidence that makes all of us look bad. Nice work, idiots.

Obsidian almost made The Ultimate Video Game
Backspace

Concept art for Backspace (Image courtesy of Kotaku)

Do you ever think up crazy dream video games? Like, you take your favorite elements from your favorite titles and picture how they would look all mashed together. Well, some folks at Obsidian (the studio behind Fallout: New Vegas and the upcoming South Park: Stick Of Truth) did exactly that. As revealed by Kotaku, the never-released game was known as Backspace, and it would’ve been a mix of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Mass Effect, Borderlands, and System Shock 2. Also, and this is just me making a guess, there might have been some Pearl Jam in there. Apparently, Backspace’s combat would’ve worked like a sci-fi version of Skyrim with guns, and you would’ve been able to travel between multiple different planets and one massive space station hub inspired by The Citadel from Mass Effect. You would’ve played as a cyborg with a robot arm and psychic abilities who can turn completely invisible in order to avoid enemies and also travel through time, in case you didn’t think there were enough cool things.

According to Kotaku, Backspace never really moved past the “let’s brainstorm every cool thing ever” stage, and Obsidian says that it’s still “on the shelf somewhere,” suggesting that it might actually be developed someday. Of course, that would be a long way off, so the developers could end up having to add even more cool things from games that come out between now and then. Maybe it could use some of Titanfall’s mechs, or Pikmin 3’s army of adorable flower creatures?

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  • The_Helmaroc_King

    Well, you see, men head up Gaming Divisions like this, but women head up Devices And Studios Engineering Groups like this.

    • His_Space_Holiness

      Ladies be managin’.

      • OldeFortran77

        Ha ha ha! It’s funny because it’s true!

      • Effigy_Power

        Word to you mother.

    • Professor_Cuntburglar

       OH GOD WHAT IF THEY STOP MAKING FEMALE CHARACTERS LOOK AND DRESS LIKE SWIMSUIT MODELS

      WHERE CAN I GO TO LOOK AT PICTURES OF PRETTY LADIES NOW

      • Cloks

        You could always just burgle them.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        I love it when people post comments like that…ON THE FREAKIN’ INTERNET.

        • Jeremy Henderson

          Yes, because clearly the poster who calls himself (herself?) Professor_Cuntburglar is being totally serious.

          • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

            Huh? I wasn’t taking him seriously. I was agreeing with his implication.

    • CyberneticOrganism

      What’s the DEAL with women, y’know? It’s like… they see a video game and they’re all like “”Oooh this will match my shoes!”

      NOTE: I just wanted to see what it felt like to type something that ridiculous. I am now dumber for having done so.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        New million-dollar business idea: DDR mats that change colour to match the colour of your shoes.

      • Effigy_Power

        More importantly, if we wanted to match our shoes to the games, that’d be okay. After all, it’s okay to buy fake Dubstep Guns and Super Mario Mushroom chairs…
        -googles, can’t find-
        Anyone want to make Super Mario Mushroom chairs?

  • Citric

    If anything, we need more games dedicated to baking, like that Japanese mayonnaise tie in game for the SNES, where you went on various adventures to learn about how to include mayonnaise in different dishes. Every time you opened the mayo bottle it had a triumphant sound.

    One of the recipes involved pizza, and the mayonnaise came last, because you made a design on the pizza with your mayo! You could do a happy face or something, but I always just covered it completely with mayo because the game taught me that mayonnaise makes everything better. Mayonnaise is our friend, long live mayo.

    What was I talking about again?

    • PaganPoet

      You know what’s awesome? Spaghetti with Japanese mayonnaise and tarako. Legit. My friend’s mom prepared it for me that way and I was well obsessed.

      • LeGrandSigh

         Yes!  I also like to put okonomiyaki toppings (Kewpi mayo, okonomiyaki sauce, bonito shavings, aonori) on spaghetti. 

    • mizerock

      The Japanese obsession with mayonnaise has led to at least one saved life.Mayonnaise Snow Cones Keep Hiker Alive for 15 Days
      http://articles.latimes.com/1999/may/27/news/mn-41686

    • LeGrandSigh

       Did it have corn on the mayonnaise pizza?  The Japanese like corn on their pizzas too. 

    • Citric

      If anyone wants to experience this, it’s called Motoko Chan no Wonder Kitchen. 

      • Citric

        So I found the file. Turns out it wasn’t a pizza, but an omelette. Also, it’s first party Nintendo! Here are some gameplay notes:

        So, let’s enjoy cooking with Motokochan in Wonder Kitchen.
        Sausages turn into gnomes and steal your vegetables.
        Flan is actually a ballerina.
        Egg turns into dancing pink elephant.
        A sleeping witch lives under the cupboard.
        A monkey leads you to a mysterious cave under the sink. Motokochan does not clean very much.
        There is also a flower under here, and a fairy is in the flower. 
        A hawk kidnaps a monkey who fell off a bridge, and took him to a psychedelic cabin.
        Those dick dwarves live in this cabin! Finally, found my damn onion. Stupid dwarves.
        There was also an egg in the closet. So that’s good? Mmm… closet eggs.
        One of the dwarfs sleeps with a tomato under his hat. This may be an obscure fetish.
        Time to learn about mayo! From an old man in a straw hat. I don’t know Japanese, so let’s make crap up.
        Question one, what is mayonnaise made out of?
        Answer: Batteries, eggs and some kind of angry oil. The batteries give it zip.
        Question two, is mayonnaise good for you? Answer: Angry oil beats the viruses from Dr. Mario. It is the only way to kill them, apart from eating all the pills.
        Question three, what are eggs made out of? 
        Answer: There’s some white goo and some yellow thingy. If you drop it from a great height, it looks like a comet, zeeown!
        If you want more, tell me. I even have screenshots.

        • mizerock

          It’s true, Dwarves are Dicks.

  • http://gameological.com/author/derricksanskrit/ Derrick Sanskrit

    I, for one, am very happy with the Cooking Mama 2: Dinner With Friends/Crafting Mama 2-pack I picked up on sale at Target a couple months ago and am looking forward to more games “dedicated to baking and knitting.”

    • PaganPoet

      I can’t wait for Knitting Hero for Move and Kinect. Anyone who can beat “Seamed sweater with cabling and Pueblo Deco design” on Master difficulty is truly a god among men.

      • Enkidum

        Women, surely. Didn’t you read that male games can’t handle knitting games?

      • LeGrandSigh

         http://kotaku.com/5939210/this-long+lost-nintendo-knitting-machine-would-have-let-you-make-sweaters-with-your-nes

    • Sam_Barsanti

      Is that the second Wii Cooking Mama? I don’t think it’s as good as the first one. The fully polygonal graphics kinda muck up the works. 

      Team Games Dedicated To Baking And Knitting!

      • http://gameological.com/author/derricksanskrit/ Derrick Sanskrit

        You’re thinking of Cooking Mama: World Kitchen, which had that truly weird “oh no, the dog knocked the dish out of your hand, better catch it!” microgame from time to time, because apparently Cooking Mama lacked spontaneity. This is what I’m talking about.

        • Sam_Barsanti

          Ah. World Kitchen suuucks. 

          And is that 2-pack then literally what “gamers” are afraid of? It actually is baking and knitting games! That’s pretty cool.

    • DrFlimFlam

      Seriously, some of the most interesting gaming experiences are about things that aren’t headshotting enemies.

      Some aren’t, but it takes all kinds of games.

      • Fluka

        *Missed taking part in this conversation because she spent the whole afternoon playing Portal 2, like the stupid casual n00b lady that she is.*

        Women be non-violent FPS physics puzzlin’.

        • Effigy_Power

          Speak for yourself. I’ve killed more Kerbal astronauts than I care to remember.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          My sister used to kill Commander Keen just to watch his death animations. Twenty years later, she still finds them funny.

    • caspiancomic

       Real talk: a 3DS knitting game that came bundled with a second stylus to simulate a pair of needles would be boss. Can the 3DS detect multiple inputs?

      • http://gameological.com/author/derricksanskrit/ Derrick Sanskrit

        Alas, it cannot, which is why it confuses people whenever a Taiko Drum Master game comes out for the DS/3DS and includes two bachi-like stylii (so that it’s easier to tap using two hands, but you have to lift the first one before tapping with the second). The lack of multi-touch, while cost effective, is still one of those things about the 3DS and WiiU that sincerely just does not make sense to me.

        • The_Helmaroc_King

          The DS and 3DS use a resistive touch screen that can only have one point of input, but is super responsive. In comparison, most capacitive touch screens (such as the ones in your iPhones and what-nots) introduce a fair amount of input lag. Granted, there are people working on new tech to reduce that lag as much as possible, but in terms of cost and responsiveness, there are some good arguments for Nintendo to have used resistive touch screens in their handhelds.

        • http://gameological.com/author/derricksanskrit/ Derrick Sanskrit

          @The_Helmaroc_King:disqus You lost me at “super responsive” considering I had to switch to d-pad control for Picross E. The 3DS touch screen kept thinking I was tapping a column or two over from what my stylus was touching, totally ruining the puzzles.

        • The_Helmaroc_King

          @dsanskrit:disqus Well, I said responsive, not accurate. I don’t think capacitive touch screens ever need to be calibrated, either, so that’s another point in their favor.

          This video doesn’t demonstrate any resistive touch screens, but it does show the kind of lag I’m talking about with capacitive touch screens.

  • duwease

    Hey Atlantic, if you really want to write an article that gets my attention, find a subject that DOESN’T spawn unnecessarily racist, sexist, and homophobic comments somewhere on the Internet.  I would say “Go ahead, I’ll wait”, but I don’t have that kind of time.

  • His_Space_Holiness

    I’m all for a new Ratchet & Clank game, but that trailer included something disturbing. Something unexpected and not wholly welcome, that throws all I know about the series into question.

    Wang Chung exists in the Ratchet & Clank universe.

    I… I don’t know how to feel about this.

    • Raging Bear

      Insomniac has been dead to me for at least 4 games. Granted, the PR line for this new Ratchet & Clank claims to return to the type of gameplay that made them alive to me to begin with, but I am not optimistic.

      • Boonehams

        This is being billed as a return to the quality and storyline of the “Future” series of games, but it doesn’t have an innuendo-laden subtitle so I’m skeptical of its quality.

        • http://www.facebook.com/andy.tuttle.79 Andy Tuttle

          Maybe they ran out of sex puns and all they could come up with was “Ratchet & Clank: They Have Boners Now”, or something equally ridiculous.

  • Effigy_Power

    In other news:

    The gaming commentary personality fills me with fear, because they are close to unbearable in regular sport already, and since decisions like this are always based on marketing statistics, we’ll be getting the running commentary from “Dodge Ball” pretty soon.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=84cwztN3nms

    The idiotic response to the new XBox boss was to be expected, but the media response to it really is more the fault of the gaming industry itself, who appears to be doing nothing useful to make it clear to the media and thereby the public that not all gamers are sexist boars. I assume this is to not alienate the millions of sexist boars who spend their money on every Call of Duty DLC in existence, but it’s a shoddy practice that only serves to make them look like amoral jerks catering to these people.
    If you elevate someone to a position like that and then not vehemently and publicly come not only to their defense, but also the defense of the very sector you represent, you should lose a lot of good-will. But I am sure Microsoft can afford to lose some more of that. Right?

    Also… the potential loss of that Obsidian game has already made me soothe my pain with pudding since I’ve heard of it, but then I thought that this would be a great tactic to test if a project is worth making. Measure the hype, pretend to “listen to the gamers”, then reward them with the game they only got because they didn’t want to miss out on it and rake in the money. Not a bad idea.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      The funny thing is that most of the negative reaction to Julie Larson-Green being named the head of Xbox had nothing to do with her gender and was mainly about the fact that she oversaw the massive clusterfuck that was Windows 8.

      Then again, there is a massive number of sexist clods out there. So maybe there are a lot of people who hate Larson-Green for her gender. Fuck those guys.

      BTW, your use of “boars” in place of “boors” has made me imagine sexists as people with tusks sticking out of the corner of their mouths. Every time they say something sexist, their tusks grow. Erick Erickson’s tusks are probably long enough that he has to worry about poachers.

      • Effigy_Power

        We can only hope he does.
        And yes, the baseless criticism of her gender not only serves to demean all of gaming, it also makes it impossible to talk about whether she actually is the right candidate on merits of skill and ability. If this keeps going on, we won’t be able to have any normal discussions about women in the workplace and their skills. On the one hand you will have morons who appear to hate any woman gaining any type of power, but on the other hand you have radical defenders who will attribute all and any criticism, even the competent and reasonable kind, to sexism and misogyny.
        Yet another example how the small fringes on the extreme edges ruin the fucking fun for all of those who are trying to get shit done like adults.
        Seriously, screw those people in the face.

    • http://www.facebook.com/andy.tuttle.79 Andy Tuttle

      I’ve only purchased 3 Call of Duty DLC packs, so I’m like 10% boar. Not bad, I’ll take it.

      • Effigy_Power

        Boars have admirable and desirable attributes, as long as they don’t behave like pigs. ^_^

        • Mike Wolf

          They’re also really, really tasty.

          I’m not sure how that’s relevant to anything other than me feeling a bit hungry.

    • HobbesMkii

      Nvm. I should read comments more.

      • Effigy_Power

        Wha?

        • HobbesMkii

           I made a mistake, then edited it really quickly.

      • Effigy_Power

        Well, now I am kind of curious as to what it was…

        • HobbesMkii

          Bore vs. boor.

  • http://twitter.com/vowelsagogo Kilzor

    Other titles in the Ultimate Video Game series:

    Ultimate Video Game: A Girl I Like Finally Likes Me BackUltimate Video Game: Gameshark: The Video Game
    Ultimate Video Game: Positive Body Image Reinforcement

    • DrFlimFlam

      You could make so much money with the first one.

      • http://sarapen.ca/ Sarapen

        I thought they were all just a really long title for the same game.

  • http://twitter.com/vowelsagogo Kilzor

    Also, Obsidian is playing with fire, indeed the most dangerous fire of all.  Did they not learn from the the ultimate lesson of hubris that was Daikatana?  When everything is spectacular, nothing is exciting.  Or something.

    • Master Prudent

      Except that aside from time travel they weren’t really planning on doing much more than they’d already done in Fallout: New Vegas. And given the way they handled branching storylines in Alpha Protocol I think they’d be able to manage that too.

  • Enkidum

    So, about that time travel idea.

    Think about, say Mass Effect with unlimited time travel. You can, say, go back to any previous point in your game, but the game also extrapolates forward to likely future states if you want to go forward. And then you can go back to your previous states, but you can also travel “backwards” to another extrapolated point that was after the point at which you travelled into the future, but before the point you travelled to. Holy shit that hurt my brain just thinking about it and trying to write that sentence.

    I guess to make things simple (ha!), you wouldn’t be able to indulge in alternate timelines – so if you go back in time, replay for a while, you can’t then go, uh… sideways to your previous save. Of course if you save a game I guess you can do that.

    Holy shit that would be cool if they could get it working right.

    In other news, I just received notice of a decision on a grant that will determine if I have a job in September (and possibly for the next three years). But it was just notice that a decision has been made, telling me I have to log on to their website to find out for certain. And, of course, thousands of other people like me are all logging on at the same time, so the website has crashed. Sigh…

    • Effigy_Power

      Wouldn’t you just go back to the moment the Reapers are created and shoot Space Child in the face? Or is this one of those time-machines that can only go as far back as the moment of its own creation?
      Yeah, I know stuff about things.

    • His_Space_Holiness

      I’ve said this before, but almost all modern games are about time travel, due to the save-game mechanic. It’s practically a gameplay feature in itself: if you screw up, you can go back in time and try again. It’s so common that we take it for granted, but it’s pretty amazing if you think about it.

      • Enkidum

        Except for Braid, of course, since it doesn’t have a save game mechanic!

        • His_Space_Holiness

          *brain explodes*

        • Effigy_Power

          Or XCOM on Iron Man mode, but -laughs- who would do something silly like that?

      • lylebot

        Demon’s Souls:  if you screw up, you can go back in time and try again.  Except this time it’ll be even harder.

  • TheKingandIRobot

    You can’t name a game Backspace and not expect it to get deleted.

    • Xtracurlyfries

      You mean cursored left then deleted

    • Effigy_Power

      Badum-Tzzt. ^_^

  • Jason R.

    I get the trepidation about MLG’s new show opening it up to a lot of the most obnoxious aspects of sports broadcasting, but you have to think big picture.  This is also the first step towards Aaron Sorkin being able to make a show about the behind the scenes drama of that show and the men and the one woman they’ll probably hire as on air eye candy for their target demo.  If nothing else it will be a brand new paradigm as the average viewer will probably reject his trademark walk-and-talk format for all the walking it portrays.

    • http://gameological.com/author/derricksanskrit/ Derrick Sanskrit

      Can’t we make that show instead? Like right now?

      The walk-and-talk might become the loadscreen-and-talk or the pour-a-glass-of-Mountain-Dew-Code-Red-and-talk.

      • djsubversive

         ”glass”? what kind of hoity-toity gamers do you know that drink their sugary liquids from glasses? Do they also stick their pinkies out whilst sipping daintily?

  • Real_Irwin

    I think Obsidian is the one of the most underrated developers today. If someone gave them enough resources and time, I think they could make a truly great game. 

    • DrFlimFlam

      They think so, too. Which is why they let people give them money to make a game.

      http://eternity.obsidian.net/

    • djsubversive

      Project Eternity.
      Project Eternity.
      Project Eternity.

      (I like to imagine that it’s a Beetlejuice effect, and saying it three times makes it more likely to appear sooner.)

      More seriously, their MO has mostly been “take an existing IP and engine that they have little to no experience with, make a more-than-worthy sequel, get fucked over by publishers.” Then people get to say they make buggy/unpolished games.

      Obsidian is the bestest. and Josh Sawyer is kind of dreamy.

  • Travis Stewart

    A shame Obsidian has been deprived of another opportunity to repeat its theme of “player characters should be powerful” and “everything sucks except the player character”.

    • djsubversive

      Their biggest theme is “choices always have consequences.” KoTOR 2, Alpha Protocol, and New Vegas are pretty much all about making choices and dealing with the consequences.

      “Player characters should be powerful” and “everything sucks except the player character” describes, like, 90% of video games, dude.

      • Travis Stewart

        Obsidian protagonists often have a special degree of power, though, like being in-universe immortal and capable of founding alien philosophical systems, or being walking wounds in the force, and so on. Even Alpha Protocol, which is somehow one of their most grounded games despite being a stylish spy fantasy, still casts you as being so awesome, even your old bosses don’t want to keep you for fear of stifling your potential (assuming you didn’t rock the aptitude test and end up in the conspiracy without prior work experience, or spend your time before as a mercenary shrouded in myth).

        Yes, most protagonists are powerful, but making the player feel like a god in-setting was an explicitly stated goal in the Mortal Remains design document, and while it was toned down in the final product (Planescape: Torment), The Nameless One is still easily one of the strongest protagonists in the history of gaming even if you ignore him being unable to die.

        If it’s alright, I’ll discuss “everything sucks” in the reply to the comment below this.

        • djsubversive

          Again, the protagonist being The Chosen One or uniquely qualified to undertake the plot of a game is not something limited to Obsidian. The Dragonborn. The First Human Spectre. Darth Revan. Son of the Founder of Rapture. The Dragon Knight in Divinity 2 (you can read everybody’s mind and also turn into a dragon! it’s pretty awesome). The Nanosuit-soldiers in the Crysis games. Player characters being better than most of the enemies they face is just one of those things that’s part of gaming. It’s definitely less of an issue than “everything sucks,” and I have a reply for that, too. :)

        • Travis Stewart

          @djsubversive:disqus And yet Obsidian shows special devotion to the idea by integrating these qualifying qualities into the action of the story more strongly than, say, Bioware. The Nameless One’s inability to die lets him allow a Sensate to murder him in exchange for money, and retrieve several items from a tomb whose every doorway kills you. The protagonist of Mask of the Betrayer is cursed to hunger for souls, and therefore must consume souls periodically. Michael Thornton’s background effects not just his skills, but the dialogue options which heavily influence the path of the game. This degree of connection between the premise of the character and his actual abilities is actually quite unusual, simple as it may be, and Obsidian has frequently applied it.

    • Sanford Abernethy

      I’m really straining to see how that makes them different from any other video game out there. The only way I really can, I guess, is to take “everything sucks except the player character” to be a dig at how a lot of the time their games tend to have a realistic view of people and institutions rather than a cartoony one, IE the difference between their old fashioned BoS in New Vegas and Bethesda’s in Fallout 3.

      Is that what you’re getting at? cos it’s hella dumb.

      • Travis Stewart

        I’m not sure there’s such a thing as a game with a realistic view of people. Obsidian’s is more realistic than most, but that doesn’t say much when Baldur’s Gate 2 is right up there for recognizing that characters with goals might eventually get tired of putting them on hold while you search for a gong. I’d almost argue that Obsidian’s characterization skills are in decline, but that’s a discussion for another time.

        So let’s talk about institutions. *SPOILERS AHEAD* I’m not sure they are any better than the cartoony versions found elsewhere, because none of them ultimately seem worth following. The wiser characters in New Vegas agree that neither the NCR or the Legion are worth following, as even if they were ideologically good ideas, they don’t have the power to do what the Mojave needs, while Mr. House has the resources but lacks the personal qualities to be the guy for the job. The player has no way to rehabilitate any of the factions: Only by becoming a despot and kicking out everyone with your army of insanely powerful robots can you have even a shot at a happy ending (and that leads to easily the best outcome), and even then this is only a temporary solution to the anarchy of world. The Courier isn’t immortal, after all.

        Now, perhaps that’s just a Fallout thing. It’s a gritty game set in a grim world, and so perhaps that ending is just appropriate for the setting. Yet this trend extends beyond Fallout. Planescape: Torment suggests that organized philosophies are at best lacking in merit (since it’s really just the belief that matters) and at worst are actively detrimental (since they oppress people like Dak’kon and arguably all of Sigil). KotOR 2 seems to disagree with the ideas of good and evil, or at least consistent portrayals of either, through its examination of the Force, to the point where it seems any organization which truly managed to only pursue The Good would actually be a bad thing. Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer seems to make a similar argument about religion: A truly good religion offers no penalty for those who fail to follow it, and so feels hollow, while any religion which claims such a penalty exists seemingly cannot be truly good. Yet organizations detached from morality aren’t any good either, as we see from the non-governmental factions in Fallout and from really any organization in Alpha Protocol. G22 and whoever Mina is working for are probably the closest we get to good factions, and we don’t really know anything about them.

        It’s almost a nihilistic approach to everything beyond the power of the individual, and I’m not sure it actually is realistic. It’s certainly cynical, though, and people often mistake the two.

        • Sanford Abernethy

           See I disagree that the NCR is not worth following. There are numerous virtuous people in the Republic like Hsu and it does protect a lot of things that are worth believing in even if it does have major sustainability problems. Similarly the Legion, while underserved by the relative paucity of Legion content, also has a decent argument to be made for it in a paved-with-good-intentions kinda way.If you look at the endings in New Vegas, no one faction leads to things turning out perfect. Each faction is a mix of good and bad things and the whole point is that the player is supposed to figure out which one they think is the best of them. That’s not a childish, cynical or nihilistic viewpoint. It’s a realistic one. Even things like how the Followers let the perfect become the enemy of the good, and how that leads to greater instability and violence in the independent ending reflect how things actually work in real life, and I think that’s a lot more satisfying than the vacuous cartoon heroes of Star Wars or Mass Effect.

          I think people come to New Vegas and think that the NCR isn’t worth supporting because it’s not perfect. That’s not the game being cynical. You seem to be looking for some “perfect” or uncomplicated good faction, and you’re painting any group that doesn’t live up to that as a product of cynicism.

        • Travis Stewart

          @sanfordabernethy:disqus Hsu is good, but it’s hard to say he’s really on a path to influence, locked as he is behind a desk at McCarran (cut content would have confirmed this by having Moore be promoted over him). Furthermore, while the NCR does claim to protect important values, they’ll violate them at the drop of a hat. The good part of the Legion (its ability to instill order) is cancelled out by (if not the genocide, succession problems, and just general attitude towards people) the fact, observed by Legate Lanius, among others, that the Legion is on a path to utter collapse in the near future. A free and independent New Vegas is the best option by far, both in the short term (there’s no genocides or forced resettlement) and the long term (as succession is left to you). I guess it’s possible to still think one of the factions is the best option, or at least a good option, but to me the downsides are too great when compared to the No Gods or Monsters route, and I think the game really encourages that path.

          My problem isn’t that the factions are flawed, or even that the independent ending is so much better. Those are fine in and of themselves, and are certainly more interesting than the organizations of Mass Effect (though that may seem like damning with faint praise). The existence of flaws is realistic, while the severity of them suits the setting. I actually really like Fallout: New Vegas (and, really, most of Obsidian’s output), it just forms a pattern when placed into context with the rest of Obsidian’s work.

        • djsubversive

          I would much rather have a few gray-morality factions and choices than have “do X for good ending and Y for bad ending.”

          I admit that’s a bit simplified, but most games that try to incorporate choice end up doing it in the most ham-fisted black-and-white way possible: do you want to pet and feed the puppy or set the puppy on fire in front of a bunch of orphans? Sometimes you can pet and feed the puppy, but demand money for puppy-food, which is presented as the “neutral” option, but it’s just a slightly-less-dickish “evil” choice.

          There are exceptions to this, of course, but to paint Obsidian as the only developer to actually flesh out various factions beyond “good/evil” and require the player to make choices that don’t always result in immediate gratification does a disservice to the few other developers who attempt such things (rather than just placing green/red buttons at the end of the game).

          In fact, I’m getting “Obsidian is good about not keeping things from being simply black-and-white, morality-wise” from your comment, which I don’t think was necessarily the point you were trying to make. Or, rather, it seems like you’re making that point, but it’s not ideal? I agree that Obsidian games tend to be a little more cynical and nihilistic than other developers, which isn’t necessarily realistic, but at the same time, we’re playing video games to escape from reality. Sometimes I want to make “tough choices” in the context of a virtual fantasy world where the consequences don’t extend any further than my monitor. I like games that have a bit more depth to them than “defeat opponents because they aren’t you, get better at defeating as game progresses.” (But sometimes you want to play a game like that, and that’s okay!) Obsidian tends to make the sort of games that I enjoy playing, other developers do not (mostly; there are always exceptions).

          Also, this is why I like GS. From a somewhat-flippant dismissal of Obsidian to a pretty lengthy and civil explanation of said dismissal. *virtual handshake* :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kevin-Johnson/501651 Kevin Johnson

    Do you ever think up crazy dream video games? Like, you take your
    favorite elements from your favorite titles and picture how they would
    look all mashed together.

    DO I!

    I wrote a ridiculously-long dream idea about it.

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

    Holy crap, Backspace sounds like a video game designed by a focus group consisting of me and my army of clones. Make this a reality, Obsidian!

    Also, feel free to make the game or whatever.

    • DrFlimFlam

      For real. Bethesda+BioWare would make my default favorite game ever.

      • djsubversive

        But it’d be made by Obsidian, so it’d have much better writing, dialogue, characters, quests, and story. And then the publisher would cut development-time short to rush the game out by X-mas or something and we’d hear the same old “Obsidian makes buggy games” thing.

    • NichaelBluth

      I actually don’t understand how an open world version of Mass Effect would work. Its charm comes from how detailed its characters and setting are. Those details are there in open world games, but rarely to the extent you see in the rather closed in Mass Effect games. However, Obsidian did New Vegas, and for an open world game, that had loads of charm, so maybe my worries are misplaced.

      • djsubversive

        Also, most/all of the bugs/glitches in New Vegas were because of Obsidian having never worked with Bethesda’s buggy glitchy version of Gamebryo before, having a short development time, and having Bethesda be in charge of QA.

    • Fluka

      *Spits out coffee!*  Mass Effect + Skyrim + made by Obsidian?!?!  When is it coming out?!?!?!

      Oh.

      Well, they did say “made by Obsidian.”

  • DrFlimFlam

    The idea that more than 5% of so-called “gamers” (how I hate that term) know or care who runs Microsoft’s Xbox division is inherently faulty. Furthermore, I’d be surprised if half again of THOSE “gamers” care about a woman running the games division.

    What those of us who play games care about is games. Anyone behind Win8 and/or the heavily pro-corporate XboxOne is going to find themselves facing some skeptical customers.

    Not me, though. I’ve never felt so free to just go whole-hog into PC gaming.

  • exant

    “I can’t wait until we see someone sit down to play StarCraft in one of those ridiculous NASCAR jackets covered in sponsorship patches.”

    This is already the norm for pro gaming (at least at public LAN events), although it’s mostly short-sleeve jerseys and hoodies covered in sponsorship logos.

    I watch a lot of pro Dota 2, so I can only talk about that, but there are also a number of well-known commentators in the pro gaming scene. In general the commentators are very knowledgeable, more than I will ever be about Dota 2, and can somehow parse the incredibly fast action in pro games.  

    However I don’t think I’d bother with a talking-heads-only show if it wasn’t between games during a big tournament.

  • LeGrandSigh
  • Lord Autumn-Bottom

    HOW DARE SOMETHING OR OTHER!!

  • thestage

    ” I can’t wait until we see someone sit down to play StarCraft in one of those ridiculous NASCAR jackets covered in sponsorship patches.”

    Not only do they already do this, but they’ve been doing it in Korea for well over a decade.