Connect with us

Analysis

A Complete Overview of E3 2013

Published

 on

The days and weeks immediately following E3 are a great time to reflect on the event that has just been put behind us and attempt to extrapolate from it an idea of the future of what gaming will have to offer. This year’s event is no exception to this rule, although there is something different about it when compared to years past. Acting as the showcase for the two consoles that will duke it out for supremacy in the next generation, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and the games that will be released for them in the first years, we have had a glimpse at the philosophies that the various different publishers are adopting. I did not have the chance to follow E3 as thoroughly as I might have liked (having no easy access to a computer or internet will do that) but this is what I intend to explore here.

The general consensus is that Microsoft has made enemies of their core consumer base through their policies related to connectivity, but its greatest advantage is touted as access to the cloud. Having increased their server count dramatically, Microsoft has recently made a lot of noise about the benefits that cloud computing will bring to their system, namely that it will boost processing power to nigh-infinite levels. Never mind the hyperbole and the reality that latency will make it all but impossible for any core calculations to be outsourced, there is a huge amount of potential in the concept. As far as the games are concerned, Microsoft’s owned studios are playing things fairly safely at this point, with confirmation of new games in the established Forza, Halo and Kinect Sports series coming the console, alongside the resurrection or the Killer Instinct franchise in F2P form.

If this was all they had to offer, the casket would already be polished for the funeral, but the company has been reaching out to established third party studios for more inventive games, like Sunset Overdrive from Insomniac, D4 from Swery64, Ryse: Son of Rome from Crytek and Quantum Break from Remedy. This expands their offerings considerably, but Microsoft also seem intent on repeating the practises that really pushed them to sales supremacy in the beginning of the last generation by approaching third party publishers for exclusivity deals, timed or otherwise. We know that Capcom has agreed to make the expansive Dead Rising 3 an Xbox One exclusive, while Titanfall from EA and Respawn Entertainment will only be available on the Microsoft family of platforms (though it hasn’t been ruled out for a release on Playstation in the future). And nor is Microsoft abandoning their push at making Kinect relevant by partnering with Disney for Fantasia: Music Evolved. All things considered, although every major source seems prepared to almost write-off the Xbox One at this point, they have the software to pull them through and just as Sony’s hubris was destroyed by the early reception to the PlayStation 3, so too may Microsoft’s be.

Speaking of Sony, that company is currently in an enviable position, with their praises being sung by the masses due to their policies regarding the treatment of used game sales and no connectivity requirement. Coupled with a more powerful console and a lower price point than their major competitor, Sony may well have at least the first year of the next generation cinched up. Like Microsoft, they too are implementing cloud functionality, but this doesn’t seem to be as important to them as it will not be available from day one. What about their philosophy regarding games though? From what we know of their first party offerings thus far, they aren’t trying too much to push gaming forward. Killzone: Shadow Fall is as visually spectacular as its predecessors were, and reports indicate that it plays with the established formula of the series, but it still seems a rather bog-standard first person shooter. By and large, the same goes for inFamous: Second Son and Gran Turismo 6. The biggest shock seems to be coming from Japan Studio, which continues to pump out ideas, with Rain, Puppeteer and Knack all in the works from them. The real point of difference, however, may very well be the company’s decision to embrace the indie scene and allow self-publishing. This has created quite a bit of buzz and a number of console exclusivity deals, which will bring profiled titles like Outlast, Don’t Starve and Galak-Z to the system. With this mixture of old and new business practises, there is strong evidence to suggest that Sony knows exactly what it is doing and how it will go about pleasing its consumers for years to come, but they will need to continue to provide compelling and diverse content if they want to keep the goodwill. With arguably the strongest stable of first-party studios in the industry and the continued backing of Quantic Dream and Level-5, there should be no barriers to this.

Nintendo is the last of the so-called Big Three and they had a muted presence at this year’s E3. They chose to forgo a press conference in favour of a simple booth on the show floor, and this may have been their best option with the Wii U struggling to make an impact and a seeming dearth of content on the way. It is rather difficult to get an idea of the way that Nintendo is looking to the future as they’ve relied so long on the past, and continue to do so. With the pillars of their release schedule being new titles in the Mario Kart, Super Mario World, Pikmin and Donkey Kong Country franchises, it’s clear that they’re playing to their strengths by focusing on platformers. To be sure, quality has always been more important than quantity to Nintendo, but it is disappointing to see them so void of new ideas. It’s peculiar that this is the case when they were the ones to really grasp the potential of the next generation first by standardising the second screen, before promptly doing nothing with the concept. Nintendo has always played things rather close to the chest, but now it just seems that they don’t know how to keep up and it may leave them with no future at all.

Away from the console manufacturers, we’re seeing a proliferation of ideas and philosophies. Activision, for example, seems content to continue the practises that have worked for them so well in this generation. The Call of Duty franchise is going on in full force with this year’s new sub-series Ghosts, but bringing in a few new ideas, such as a new AI form in Riley the dog, and assistance from Academy Award winning screenwriter Stephen Gaghan to bring things forward. Skylanders is also continuing with Swap Force at the end of this year, which will introduce a new set of toys for kids the world over to annoy their parents to buy. Finally, they have Destiny, the new IP from Halo creators Bungie as part of a ten year deal. They’ve proven capable at popularising and monetising their franchises, and there’s little reason to doubt that this winning strategy will change as we move forward through the years. As for their publishing partners Blizzard, we know that they have a new MMO and a console version of Diablo III in the works but like Nintendo, they’ve always played things close to the chest and focused on quality. What’s the future for Activision Blizzard? The smart money would be a continuation of their established practises.

Electronic Arts seems intent on seeing games as an on-going service by really hammering home the idea that connectivity is essential. Their flagship franchise these days is Battlefield, and the latest in that series is promised to have a hefty offering in both single player and multiplayer. The single player side of things is said to be incorporating elements of multiplayer and you can rest assured that there will be continued expansion through additional map packs. Further to this, the console multiplayer will be fused with social elements in Commander Mode. It follows the examples set by Mass Effect 3, Dead Space 3 and Need For Speed this generation of blurring the boundaries between the two different formats of gaming and seems to be the core philosophy of EA going forward, as Titanfall and Star Wars: Battlefront will also receive similar treatment.

Ubisoft’s seems awfully similar to this as evidenced by their intentions with their newest franchises Tom Clancy’s The Division and The Crew, both of which will feature single player oriented gameplay set within the framework of a persistent online world. Watch Dogs will have multiplayer systems similar to those found in Dark Souls in that it will be a seamless integration of online and offline play with players possibly being unaware that someone else is in their game. Their flagship Assassin’s Creed franchise will continue for at least another two years, with recent confirmation that the entry following Black Flag is already in the works and that there are a total of three teams working on the series. Aside from these, the publisher seems to be striking a balance between new franchises, as those listed above, and the continuation of older ones that aren’t nearly so reliant on new age philosophies.

Heading to Eastern shores, there is almost no indication of what Capcom is doing, although they have previously expressed a desire to shorten their development times compared to the past and they seem interested in reviving the practice of third party console exclusivity in Dead Rising 3 and Deep Down, which are reportedly only to be available on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 respectively. With Resident Evil 6 and DmC: Devil may Cry failing to meet sales expectations, the future of those two series are in danger, even though they have historically been the company’s most revered and profitable. The only approach that we can safely take is to reserve judgement until we find out more and hope that that is sooner rather than later.

The same goes for Sega. We know that they’ve inked a deal with Nintendo to make the next three Sonic games exclusive, as well as Bayonetta 2, but little more. The Creative Assembly is busy with a new Total War game, and a new project set in the Alien IP universe, while Sega Japan is working on a Football Manager-esque title for the Playstation 3 and Vita, among other unrevealed titles. With the publisher in dire straits, they seem content to focus on their core successes for now, but that can only work for so long. At this point, the future doesn’t seem very promising.

Finally, there is Square-Enix. They’ve fallen out of favour over the past generation due to the abuse of their revered Final Fantasy series, focusing on spin-offs for the Kingdom Hearts series and putting out a rather abysmal selection of titles as the remainder of their offerings. Rebranding Versus XIII as Final Fantasy XV doesn’t seem to have won back any of that goodwill as it is simply too different from what fans want, though the announcement of Kingdom Hearts 3 has helped somewhat. In many ways, for this company, the axiom “everything old is new again” seems to be the one that they are most interested in adhering to. They resurrected Hitman and Tomb Raider in the last year, have Thief and likely a new Deus Ex in the works and all of this, in concert with what they announced at E3, makes it clear that they’re happy to continue trying to recapture the past.

Damien Lawardorn is an aspiring novelist, journalist, and essayist. His goal in writing is to inspire readers to engage and think, rather than simply consume and enjoy. With broad interests ranging from literature and video games to fringe science and social movements, his work tends to touch on the unexpected. Damien is the former Editor-in-Chief of OnlySP. More of his work can be found at https://open.abc.net.au/people/21767

Analysis

A Mind at War With Itself: Hellblade and the Lived Experience of Mental Illness

Published

 on

*Note: This article contains spoilers for Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice and references to mental illness. Reader discretion is strongly advised.*

More than six months on from its initial release, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice’s dedication to an honest portrayal of mental illness through the protagonist, Senua, ensures the game remains one of the most meaningful and affecting of recent times. While discussion of media products’ value has turned the past few years to focus on inclusive portrayals of race or gender, the mentally ill remain underserved. Too often do depictions of depression, anxiety, and psychosis latch on to the simplest and, in some ways, most offensive stereotypes. Seeing Max Payne or Sebastian Castellanos trying to drown their sorrows is a world away from my experiences. By contrast, Senua’s struggles—from both a narrative and allegorical standpoint—are more relatable. In focusing on accuracy above all else, Ninja Theory succeeded in creating a title capable of resonating with an audience normally forced to the fringes in fiction, and, for that, the team deserves to be applauded.

Hellblade’s surface-level portrayal of psychosis has been lauded from many quarters, including being named as Game Beyond Entertainment at the recent BAFTA Game Awards, yet the adventure doubles as an allegory for life with mental illness. The opening moments set the tone of the title as Senua, beset by disembodied voices, steers a primitive canoe along a fog-shrouded waterway. The tranquility of the surroundings contrasts against the maelstrom of sound, and therein lies the first hint of the game’s deeper engagement with its central topic: unlike injury, physical deformity, or racial and sexual difference, mental illness has no easily recognisable signs. An individual looking on sees only another person, while the sufferer is being torn apart by the conflicts running through their mind. However, those voices—the Furies, as Senua thinks of them—are central to more than just Ninja Theory’s depiction of psychosis and, by extension, the Hellblade experience; they are also integral to the message that the game ultimately conveys.

Senua arrives in a strange land where mutilated corpses stand as a warning of horrors yet to come. Though players do not learn it until later in the journey, the character’s quest in this faraway place is to bring her lover, Dillion, back to life by descending into the Viking underworld of Helheim and confronting its nightmarish deity, Hela. Given that the game is burdened by the weight of reality through Senua’s movement and the level of detail, the mission seems incongruous.

Hellblade

However, this dissonance contributes to the allegory. Mental illness is fundamentally irrational—the sufferer episodically or eternally unhinged from reality. External circumstances may induce or exacerbate conditions, but the insecurities arising from them are rarely easily attributable to a clear source. Thankfully, I cannot claim to suffer from issues as intense as those of Senua, but I can understand her plight. We with broken minds feel disassociated from those around us and unable to relate. As such, although outreach programs are a noble endeavour, their premise is flawed. When trapped in the throes of a negative or deranged mindset, letting someone else in feels dangerous:

‘What if they don’t believe me?’

‘How will they judge me?’

‘What if I hurt them or, worse, they hurt me?’

Even knowing that such doubts are nothing more than the illusory creations of my brain, when they run rampant, I am unable to contradict them. These false realities overpower my seemingly tenuous awareness of the objective world. Finding a buoy to cling to in the storm-tossed waters of mental tumult is nigh impossible, but I have someone and Senua had Dillion.

As such, Dillion is far more than a MacGuffin; he is a symbol of the path out of the darkness that Senua had begun to walk. Therefore, her determination to bring him back to life is not just another fantasy video game objective, but a cry for help. Senua wants to be healed. However, to do so, she must undertake a harrowing journey that will force her to confront both internal and external demons.

Before Senua can pass through the gate to Helheim, she must enter the realms of the gods Valravn and Surt to make them bleed. In the story, these two beings appear as little more than obstacles to be overcome, and the puzzles that lead to them border on busywork. The aforementioned gods are of far greater relevance in the allegory as they stand in for the first phase of healing: diagnosis. Together, they reflect the lived experience of mental illness.

Valravn is a god of illusion; thus, of the two gods, he is the easier to contextualise as a metaphor of Senua’s psychosis. As players progress through this section of the game, they solve optical-illusion-based puzzles by utilising gateways that alter parts of the environment. This alignment of mechanics and the subjectivity of perception results in the level being a reflection of the struggle to recognise reality. For Senua, that means realising that the voices that plague her are not external beings, but manifestations of her subconscious and, therefore, are unable to guide her. For me, the battle is to remember that other people will not judge me negatively offhand.

Similarly to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and psychosis, social anxiety has been trivialised by its use in the vernacular and mistaken for a desire to avoid interaction. My experience is the opposite. I would relish the freedom to attend events or talk to people in social situations comfortably, but these things are trying, and I invariably end up drained or on the verge of tears. In a crowd, I feel overly alert for even the faintest hint of danger, and, in conversation, I am tormented by thoughts and fears of what the other party thinks of me. Though these worries make daily life difficult, I have no idea if they have a firm basis in reality. Subjectivity overwhelms objectivity, which is also true in Valravn’s realm where illusion rules over the material world.

Surt is different; rather than reflecting the experience of mental illness, his flames describe its nature. Fire makes for a powerful metaphor. When controlled, the heat and light afforded by flame is comforting, but, loosed, it becomes all-consuming. One of the most frequently overlooked qualities of ‘abnormal’ mindsets is their ability to self-perpetuate. Though they can destroy lives, the abject greyness, voices, or delusions become a solace. Far from feeling ruinous, they reassure against stressors and daily rigours. In Surt’s world, the inferno rages at the touch of an external catalyst, leaving Senua’s only option to run, terrified, towards a gate and break through to quell the flames behind her. This gameplay conceit echoes the often episodic experience of mental illness, as well as the struggle of escaping its grip. One does not simply walk out of a warped mindset—a breakthrough is needed.

HB2

Identification is necessary before hope of healing. Overcoming Surt and Valravn reflects the former process, allowing the gates of Helheim to open so that Senua can confront her demons. At that point, the title’s focus shifts from the present to the past, beginning by revealing Dillion’s role as a symbol and, later, a guide to help Senua flee from the harmful influences that permeated her youth. The series of diverse challenges that ensue is a kind of therapy, delving into some of the watershed moments of her past, clarifying and correcting misconceptions presented earlier in the adventure. In the present, as in the past, Dillion arms Senua with the tools to challenge those people and voices who try to silence and subjugate her by revealing the truth that she is not cursed, but ill and misunderstood.

With these challenges complete and the legendary sword Gramr in her possession, the protagonist embarks on the last part of her journey. Hela’s final guardian is Garm, a half-rotted beast that uses darkness as its weapon. The implication is clear: throughout the game—as in wider discussions of the topic—Senua has referred to her mental illness as a darkness, so this penultimate battle is intended to strip away remaining misconceptions and free herself from her psychosis. Subsequent events seem to confirm her newfound freedom as she steps through a mirror and leaves behind her Furies.

Hela awaits.

However, as with everything in Hellblade, reality is to be questioned. Hela is not the goddess that Senua believes she is, but a manifestation of the core of her own psychosis. During the battle, Senua realises the unintentional evil done by her father in his attempts to expel her demons, contextualising the realms of Valravn, Surt, and Garm as extensions of his actions. According to common belief, these epiphanies should enable Senua to overcome her issues and emerge as a well-adjusted member of society. Instead, she is forced to fail and fall without ever having been able to lay her blade upon her final adversary.

In taking this approach, Ninja Theory displays both boldness and maturity. Nonetheless, this seeming death is not the end. Hela takes Dillion’s skull and casts it into an abyss, following which she transforms into Senua. By conflating the two characters in this moment, Senua’s development is emphasised; though she needed Dillion to help her see that she was not cursed, she no longer needs to rely on him.

The truth that Ninja Theory conveys so effectively is that mental illness is not an adversary to be defeated or an obstacle to be overcome. As time has passed, I have developed an awareness of the beginnings of an episode and formed an ability to analyse what in my life can be changed to mitigate its impact. Furthermore, though another person may be able to provide guidance and assistance, the struggle is always deeply personal. We can often barely describe the wars that our minds engage in against themselves, and we certainly cannot invite someone else in to fill us with rainbows and sunshine.

As the sun breaks through the clouds, revealing one of the most breathtaking sights in all of Hellblade, Senua’s Furies return, rejoicing at still being alive. The protagonist had to ‘die’ because she tried to reject them. She smiles to hear them again, having realised that they are a part of her, as mental illness always is. Living with such problems can, at times, be a harrowing, seemingly impossible task, but to deny them is to deny the self.

I could write volumes more about the levels, enemies, mechanics, and story of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice and how all of these disparate elements work together to present a more cohesive and compelling experience than almost any other game built on the same scale. For now, though, all I have left to write is thank you to the development team for having the courage and conviction to bring this game to life.

Continue Reading